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Cultivating Roots with Abbey Grown

Like a living mound of fertile soil, the Fremont Abbey Arts Center provides the perfect conditions for creativity to sprout. Tiny shoots are watered with a plethora of classes and workshops. Young saplings are mentored by well-established evergreens, who grow taller with the simple wisdom of their protégés. And, to welcome the springtime season, a mushroom-like network of artists will present their work this weekend (March 28-29), in Abbey Grown.

Victoria McConnell's Arc and Arrow  Film still by Brad Curren
Dancer Marissa Quimby in Victoria McConnell’s work for Abbey Grown
Film still by Brad Curran

The beauty of mushrooms is that one cannot grow without another. Underneath the cap and stem of a single specimen lies a complex network of collaborative nutrition. Similarly, Abbey Grown is an embodiment of the power of cross-disciplinary partnership. “Collaboration is the key word,” said choreographer Kimberley Holloway, who will present her latest work, Swell of Utterances, at the event. “People have explored their art form and are looking for some way to branch out and add other art forms to add that extra layer.” All the pieces in Grown are collaborations: Victoria McConnell will present dance with video by Brad Curran and music by Julia Massey and the Five Finger Discount; Holloway collaborated with musician Caleb Talbert for Swell and will also present a solo to music by Pepper Proud; choreographer Elana Jacobs and musician Doug Barber work as a team called CabinFever and have created a new work specifically for Grown. Other musicians and visual artists will be featured in ways that blur the lines between mediums in a supportive environment. McConnell, one of the event organizers, said, “as we met in the early phases of creating Abbey Grown, the artists and I found that there was a great thread of connection running through all our ideas for this show.  Each of us felt a strong sense of rootedness in community.” The artists hope to convey that sense of rootedness through their work.


The vision for Abbey Grown is “to celebrate a grass-roots way of creating art that is sourced from a welcoming space and reaches out to neighbors and newcomers alike to build a more vibrant local arts economy. Not unlike your neighborhood farmers market,” said McConnell. The community-oriented nature of the event is reflected in its complimentary ticket offer, as part of the Fremont Abbey Arts Center’s program ArtsConnect. The program “provides access to free tickets to Abbey Arts events for nonprofit workers and the low-income families or youth they serve throughout the greater Seattle area,” said McConnell. This aligns with McConnell’s own vision to make the arts “easily accessible” and to “invite viewers to be inspired, to ask questions, or to simply enjoy.” Similarly, Holloway described the artists of Grown as “good-spirited people who want to make art that’s inviting to people.” Jacobs’s work with CabinFever is usually performed in homes, inspired by their families and architecture. In this case, she is hoping to make “the audience feel comfortable in a laid back way,” as if they were in their own homes.

Elana Jacobs and Doug Barber in rehearsal
Elana Jacobs and Doug Barber of CabinFever in rehearsal for Abbey Grown

Jacobs said she’s “never done anything like this,” a performance in a public arena with this particular style of collaboration with Barber. She is “excited about taking the risk for doing something new for this show, because it feels like such a well-rounded group of people.” CabinFever actually presented their first work at the Abbey, transitioned into performances in private residences, and are now returning to the public venue of their collaboration’s birth. They have created this work specifically for this particular space, and entirely as a team. Usually, portions of their work have been created separately, so this has been a “fun little challenge” for Jacobs. Additionally, Jacobs usually serves as the artistic director of CabinFever’s work, rather than as a performer; in this case, she will be performing the piece as a duet with Barber.


Similarly, McConnell is “excited to take on the challenge of weaving live dance and dance for camera together, because of the new dimensions that film opens up for live performance.” To create a seamless whole out of the elements of dance, video, and music, objects featured in the film will have a physical presence in the space, coming toward and involving the audience.


Holloway, too, has been trying new things for her presentation: this is the first time she’s collaborated with a musician, and the first time she’s played with combining text and dance. She and musician Talbert created their work separately before combining the elements. Through this process, she has been learning how to let go of the original vision for her work, to make way for something potentially more beautiful.

Dancer Marissa Quimby in Victoria McConnell’s work for Abbey Grown
Film still by Brad Curran

Despite the local nature of the event, most of the artists come from elsewhere. The rainforest-like atmosphere of the arts climate in Seattle has long attracted community-minded artists like these. When asked why Seattle does this so well, Jacobs responded, “Seattle has an unbelievable amount of talented artists who are really invested in the process of making work,” and that artists are willing to “participate in things where there’s no guarantee for a specific type of product, which is a dream for someone who likes to let things sit and develop in a natural way.” Creativity certainly has the space to germinate and flourish in the soil of the Fremont Abbey Arts Center. McConnell in particular, said Jacobs, has been like “water” to the growing plant that is her art career, and she is “so grateful” to be a part of this artistic garden.


Audiences will certainly feel that sense of gratitude emanating from all of Abbey Grown’s collaborators. The welcoming environment these artists hope to create encourages the public to take part in the growth of this community specifically, but also in the growth of the Seattle arts scene as a whole.

Abbey Grown runs March 28-29, 2014 at the Fremont Abbey Arts Center at 8 PM each night. To purchase tickets or learn more about the event, please visit here.