Seven Black Tacoma artists selected to create new works at Hilltop site

Nonprofits Forterra and Fab-5 announce artist engagement as part of their work for attainable housing and commercial space.

TACOMA, WA — Seven Black artists from Tacoma have been selected to help activate a block along Martin Luther King Jr. Way and South 11th Street in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. Forterra and Fab-5 partnered on the call for artists.

“Historic Hilltop residents are coming together to reclaim this site, which has sat empty for far too long,” said Director of Fab-5 Chris Jordan. “As a community, we’re taking a space which has represented the underinvestment in Hilltop and creating a new development model that’s based on community ownership and self-determination.”

A Community Investment Council, established by the two nonprofits, and made up of current and historic Hilltop residents has been advising the property development. The Council selected the seven artists: Adika Bell, Dionne Bonner, Breyahna Coston, Jeremy Gregory, Tiffanny Hammonds, Gwen Jones and Darrell McKinney.

By harvesting feedback and ideas from historic Hilltop residents, the artists are working to transform a former Rite Aid building into an emblem of Hilltop culture and community. The artists will produce 10 commissioned pieces that connect to Hilltop neighborhood culture. Five of the newly commissioned artworks will enliven the current building and five will be permanent art installations for the future development.

The former Rite Aid building, set for demolition at the end of 2022, will be home to new attainable housing and commercial spaces. The project has a planned completion date of 2024.

Muralist Adika Bell was selected to commission two pieces. Bell seeks to use his art to embrace and celebrate Black images, accomplishments and history. He recalls riding in his grandfather’s van as a child and seeing a mural in People’s Park featuring Black faces and daily life.

“I was blown away,” said Bell. “The mural inspired me years before I knew I’d be an artist one day. I now have this opportunity to create my own mural in the same community where I was raised.”

Bell’s mural will be just two blocks away from the original piece that inspired him.

Forterra, through its Strong Communities Fund, made minor updates to the former Rite Aid building to set the stage for cultural activation by community members and artists. The nonprofit raised $68,000 to commission the artists.

“We heard from the Hilltop community that the Rite Aid building, which has been vacant for too long, should serve the community now and reflect their vision for the new development to come,” said Forterra’s President & CEO Michelle Connor. “The artists will contribute to the rich cultural fabric of Hilltop and support the lasting legacy of the neighborhood.”

The artists’ residency will continue through December 2022. Each residency is six months, with five artists per residency.

About the Hilltop development

In 2019, Forterra through its Strong Community Funds purchased a 1.7-acre property in the heart of Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. The property covers a full city block and includes a former Rite Aid building that has been vacant since 2012. Through a community driven design process and a cooperative ownership model, the building will create ownership opportunities for current and historic Hilltop residents who have been at greatest risk of displacement as both homeowners and business owners.

Working in partnership with Hilltop residents, Forterra is cultivating a new model for attainable housing and commercial space that can address long-term affordability and sustainability. The development will include approximately 300 homes — a mix of cooperative ownership and rentals — combined with retail, office and communal gathering spaces.

Continuing into 2021, the Hilltop community will help design homes and business spaces at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and South 11th Street. Forterra and Fab-5 emphasize that only through the leadership and guidance of the Hilltop community can this design reflect and strengthen the rich cultural legacy of Hilltop.

The Hilltop community can learn more and participate by visiting the #DesignTheHill landing page.

Forterra will begin construction in 2022 and anticipates completion by 2024. Learn more at Forterra.org/Hilltop.

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ABOUT FORTERRA

Forterra is a Washington-based nonprofit that enhances, supports, and stewards the region’s most precious resources — its communities and its ecosystems. Forterra conserves and stewards land, develops innovative policies, and supports sustainable rural and urban development. In its 30-year history, Forterra has helped conserve more than 250,000 acres. Its work stretches from the farmlands and river canyons of Yakima to the estuaries and forests of Washington’s coastline, reaching more than 100 counties, cities, and towns. Visit www.forterra.org.

ABOUT FAB-5

Fab-5 is a non-profit initiative launched 20 years ago by a group of youth in Pierce County who wanted more relevant opportunities for young people to gather, connect, and create. Fab-5 formed a movement by seizing undervalued resources to create groundbreaking opportunities. Whether taking an underused radio station and turning it into a youth broadcasting platform, or transforming a vacant storefront into a year-round creative education center—Fab-5 has innovated for nearly two decades to ensure that the young people in our community are supported to manifest their unique visions for their futures and for the world. Learn more at www.fab-5.org.

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