Sponsor Spotlight: Swenson Say Fagét

The Swenson Say Fagét logo over the different members of the firm.

This year, Swenson Say Fagét joined the Arts Corps community as our newest Festa sponsor! A structural engineering firm with offices in Seattle, Tacoma, and Ellensburg, Swenson Say Fagét’s work focuses on designing systems within buildings and art pieces to ensure that these remain standing even when tested by people, snow, wind, or earthquakes. 

Upon learning about it, this work felt unexpectedly resonant. What is arts education if not structural support for young people? The creativity, critical thinking, sense of connection, and deepened belief in one’s abilities fostered by Arts Corps programs are all necessary assets, helping students persevere when faced with challenges and inclement climates. Moving beyond metaphor, Swenson Say Fagét highlights the importance of arts integration, since it is both math and drawing which helps to create and communicate structural system designs.

Brett Mozden, a principal engineer at the Seattle office, shared with us the impact of art education in his career. Although he did not feel like an artistic person growing up, his father kept him motivated to keep trying. In college, Mozden took architecture classes and learned much more about sketching and drawing. These skills have been very useful to him as a structural engineer, and he recommends them for anyone in the profession. Mozden reflects, “I don’t think I would be where I am today without the art programs available as a child and in college for someone like me that wasn’t naturally artistic but always had a desire to get better.” 

Like Arts Corps, Swenson Say Fagét also understands the value of community. Internally, the office culture prioritizes the comfortability of its members, allowing everyone to actually enjoy what they do so that they can be better collaborators. This culture is Mozden’s favorite thing about the work: “It’s very respectful of people as people.” 

Externally, the firm feels connected to the city. The Seattle office has been housed in Belltown for years and many of the company members have grown up in the city itself. This means the firm has witnessed the many changes Seattle has experienced over the last 10 years and employees such as Mozden recognize the disruption specific communities have faced. This is why Swenson Say Fagét likes to partner with organizations around town, such as Food Lifeline, the BLOCK Project, and now Arts Corps to make a positive impact. 

Mozden says, “We are always looking to connect with ways to help make our city a better place. We feel Arts Corps is a great way for us to help encourage the young artists in the city to express themselves and make the environment in Seattle a better place through their passions in art.”  

Arts Corps is grateful for our partnership with Swenson Say Fagét, who helps us support our city and our young people for a lasting, brighter future!  

— GRECIA LEAL PARDO, Development & Communications Coordinator

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Gratitude to the Arts Corps Community

Against all odds, I’m starting 2022 with a full heart and a strong dose of inspiration and hope. And it’s thanks to Arts Corps donors. 

Our supporters gave $118,317 in donations to support youth arts education through our year-end campaign- far exceeding our original goal of $50,000! This level of generosity gives us greater ability to take risks in service of our mission of revolutionizing arts education; it serves as another reminder that when we trust in the abundance of our community and place our hope in generosity, we’ll be ok. More than ok. Because our young people have space and support to be their full creative, beautiful selves.

As 2021 drew to a close, I felt hope and optimism eluding me like never before. With dear friends fighting cancer, family members struggling with other health challenges, Omicron spreading like wildfire, and ongoing systemic issues taking their toll on our collective bodies and minds, the end of the year left me heartbroken and exhausted and with a sense that the future was bleak.

So, when I drove to the office last weekend to check our mail and review year-end gifts, I wasn’t looking for hope. I wasn’t looking for inspiration, yet that’s exactly what I found.

As I opened the envelopes one by one, the names of Arts Corps donors started thawing the cold, constricted edges of my heart. Many of the individuals who sent checks have given loyally for years. I recognized their names. Pictured their faces. I felt a profound sense of gratitude. In these difficult times, so many people had dedicated time and energy to mailing a check or giving online. There was $21,100 in year-end gifts in that pile of mail alone.

As I continued reviewing our year-end gifts, I was also struck by the fact that many of the individuals who contributed to the campaign had already given throughout the year. And I don’t just mean financially. One donor chose to give a financial gift after already dedicating hours and hours of her time assembling free art kits for students and families as a part of our COVID-19 Art Kit program. Such generosity of spirit!

We also had many new donors, giving gifts of all sizes. Gifts were in the range of $10 to $50,000. What wonderful diversity of community coming together in support of youth creativity and educational equity!

As I begin 2022, I’m so grateful to the Arts Corps community, and especially our donors.  You  lifted my spirits and reminded me of the hope that lies in generosity and the sacredness of giving and receiving. With your gifts, you’ve brought us closer to our vision of a world where barriers to arts education no longer exist and all young people can creatively lead the transformation of schools, neighborhoods, and beyond.


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A message from Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam 🎸


I’ve been a proud supporter of Arts Corps since it was founded in 2000. To deepen my commitment to its teaching artists and youth, I recently joined its board of directors. I’m excited to invest my time and resources into a community that helps young people connect with art and with each other.

As a 16-year-old, I stumbled into a connection to art without realizing it. A door opened when I was exposed to the garage rock, punk rock, and outsider music of the ’80s. With no obvious ‘rules,’ I felt like music was something I could do. The confidence and excitement of finding my tribe and identifying a creative outlet was thrilling for me and for all of us playing together in the Seattle scene, showing up to each other’s shows and rooting for each other’s ships to sail.

The success of Seattle’s music’s community will always be because of our shared art and vision. And that is one of the biggest things I love about Arts Corps. Arts Corps is about building community, support, and encouragement to say — sing, dance, draw — from perspectives that feel right to you, find your voice, tribe, find folks that you can make mistakes in front of… that might love your mistakes. An individual doubles or even triples their personal power when they collaborate and play with others, as a musician or as a person in life.

All young people deserve access to art as a core part of their education.

That’s why I am matching all gifts made to Arts Corps by December 31, 2021, up to $20,000. I invite you to make a gift to Arts Corps today. With your support, we’ll be one step closer to Arts Corps’ vision of a world where barriers to arts education no longer exist and all young people can creatively lead the transformation of schools, neighborhoods, and beyond.

— STONE GOSSARD, Arts Corps Board Member

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Sponsor Spotlight: True North Gear

The True North Gear team at an Earth Day clean-up event earlier this year.

Why would a company that designs and sells protective fire gear sponsor Arts Corps year after year? The short answer is that they deeply value creativity, imagination, and risk-taking; core skills that Arts Corps cultivates in students through our arts integration and out-of-school time programs.
True North Gear’s origin story speaks to how intrinsic these values are in the company’s DNA. With a sewing machine from Goodwill and an idea for a new type of pack he wanted to create based on his outdoor experience, founder Alyx Fier launched his company in 1992 out of his garage. While working full-time as a carpenter, he spent six months teaching himself pack design, patterning, and prototyping on nights and weekends. With time and persistence and innovation, he was able to design and sew his own designs.
Fast forward 29 years and True North Gear is a multi-brand corporation with a global reach whose products save lives. As Fier proudly describes it: “Everything we make is either used to protect the life of the person using it, or they are using it to protect someone else’s life. That is so consequential and intrinsically meaningful.”

Their products range from chainsaw packs to radio harnesses to flame-resistant pants, and they have dealers across the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Even with their growth, they continue to be a family-owned company, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Way S, just a few miles from the garage where it all began.
When asked if arts education influenced his development as a young person, Fier unequivocally associated it with his success in business. He shared, “I’m living proof that studying and being engaged in the creative process as a student can provide the foundation for an intellectually and financially rewarding life. My college education focused on film, theater, music and audio engineering, none of which would seem obvious choices as a precursor to a successful business career as opposed to getting an MBA.”

Fier continues: “The common denominator of my studies is that they all involved the creative process and what I learned is understanding and appreciating that failure is an intrinsic and important part of success. Knowing that emboldened me to risk taking. You have an idea, you try it, it doesn’t work the way you expected, you learn from that experience and apply it to the next attempt. It’s only failure if you don’t learn anything and don’t then try again. Fear of ‘failure’ is what holds most people back from actually being successful.”
Arts Corps is so grateful to have corporate partners like True North Gear who value the importance of cultivating creativity, imagination, and risk-taking among youth. Thank you, True North Gear!


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Back to school. How is that possible?

I’m writing from our West Seattle office where I can hear music and muffled laughter coming through the huge open windows as our team sets up in the parking lot. Masked shouts of love are coming from folks who haven’t seen each other in person for over a year. The energy is contagious, the rhythm is palpable. We’re giddy, maybe even a little awkward, we’re just happy to be together. It’s a much needed salve for my heart. 

Today’s a special day. Our Program Team and veteran Teaching Artists on staff are welcoming new teaching artists to the Arts Corps faculty. 11 new teaching artists will join our robust roster of 25 this fall. Among them are poets, writers, storytellers, music producers, visual artists, theatre artists, and even a puppeteer. As we gather in masks outside on a chilly August afternoon to make art, learn together, and share a socially-distanced meal, it’s clear that these are our people. Artists. Creatives. Educators. Folks who thrive off of sharing ideas. It feels like a rebirth of what it means to Make Art Anyway. 

This school year we plan to hold 60% of our classes in-person. We’re also planning to continue virtual classes. Online learning breaks down access barriers for youth across King County, widening the reach of Arts Corps’ classes. We anticipate that we will assemble and deliver over 5,000 art kits, each of which are unique to each student and their curriculum.  

After walking the tightrope of a global pandemic, a major leadership transition, and navigating the ever-changing education landscape, our organization has taken the last nine months to reflect and build. 

In January, we began the year with a period of intentional deep reflection, beginning with an organizational assessment that helped us learn about and lean into our strengths, identify our warts, and supported us in deciding how to move forward as we begin to search for a permanent leadership solution.

After three months of exploration, we learned that we have a team full of passionate staff and teaching artists. We have a collective commitment to the youth in our programs, to anti-racism, and to our community at large, and that despite the pandemic and other challenges, Arts Corps’ programs have continued to offer the highest quality of creative learning opportunities. It was also clear that we value shared leadership. 

We were also left with some questions:

How is Arts Corps creating a sustainable life for teaching artists? What is our compensation philosophy? How do we manage conflict? To answer these questions, we started at the root. We centered our values of community, equity, and creativity to closely examine how we want them to show up in our daily work.

Community: Our team has been talking about the community we want to build together. What makes a community strong, a place for authentic belonging, where each identity and lived experience is valued, and where each person has a place in important decision making? We know that begins with trust. So that’s what we’ve been building. In addition to programming, we’ve been working to establish radical honesty. In March we began working closely with Praxis Essentials, run by our own Co-Director of Arts Education, Olisa Enrico. Olisa is leading us through team building rooted in equity. 

Equity: An important theme at the heart of our staff conflict in 2019 was inequitable pay. It is a critical piece of who we are at Arts Corps to make sure we lead our region in equitable business practices. We need to ensure that our incredibly talented team can not only afford to live and work in King County, but that our families can thrive and have a healthy quality of life. 

This spring we collaborated to draft and pass an equitable compensation policy as part of a more inclusive budget process. Now we have transparent salary bands. This new plan ensures that no Arts Corps staff member will ever earn less than 50% of the median wage for their particular position in King County. Our highest paid staff member makes no more than 2x that of the lowest paid staff member. We have clear pathways to promotions. We also offer a small bump in compensation for every year folks have been in their role, as well as a COLA every other year. In the years without a COLA, we reevaluate salary bands to ensure we are still offering leading wages in the nonprofit industry. 

We took time to reevaluate the way we compensate teaching artists. Some of the feedback that we heard was that there was too much of a gap between our classroom assistants and our most experienced teaching artists, leaving our newest and often youngest teaching artists most vulnerable. Now we offer 3 bands of flat rate wages that not only exceed national industry norm, but are some of the highest paid teaching artists positions in our region. Arts Corps teaching artists now receive access to a 401K with a match from Arts Corps, access to dental insurance, accident plans, and other benefits. 

Our entire team of staff and teaching artists receive a personal and professional development allotment to use as they choose because we know that having a healthy well-balanced life leads to creative expression.

Creativity: We’ve all learned to expect the unexpected, so we will continue to do what we do best. We are here to make art together. We make art at our team meetings, we play theater games, we do scavenger hunts, and show-and-tell on Zoom. This summer, my biggest source of joy were the pop-up performances that we did at four community housing sites — drumming, singing, and dancing with youth and their families is what we all needed. Creative collaboration and expression is where joy comes from.

As we start another unprecedented school year, we’ll learn and grow with our partners as we navigate the pandemic together. We’ll take high level safety precautions to keep each other safe. We care about our community. We care about our students and we can’t wait to make more art. 

— CARRIE SIAHPUSH, Acting Executive Director

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Sponsor Spotlight: Mahlum Architects

Mahlum Architects Staff

For those in the design community, it comes as no surprise that Arts Corps’ longest-running Festa sponsor is an architecture firm. Mahlum, a Seattle architecture firm established in 1938, has supported Arts Corps consistently since 2008. The value of arts education is not lost on those who spend their days designing built environments that foster a sense of safety, connection, and curiosity — the very same outcomes that Arts Corps’ teaching artists work to achieve with students in the classroom!

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Anne Schopf, a partner at Mahlum and longtime Arts Corps supporter. Drawing the connection between Mahlum’s work and Arts Corps’ mission, Anne described that arts education was profoundly formative for both her and her colleagues. She reflected: “I can’t imagine not having it. Many of us are all so committed to understanding art itself. If not art, what are we living for? We [Arts Corps and Mahlum] care about the same things. We’re just doing it in different ways.”

Equity and community are two values shared by Mahlum and Arts Corps, and a specific way that they play out at Mahlum is in the firm’s design process. They try to center those who don’t have a voice at the table, honoring the culture and traditions of the primary occupants of the space. For example, in preparation for the design of a new hospital in Nome, Alaska, Mahlum’s design team visited with elders, students, healthcare staff, and local villages to gain a deeper understanding of the values and challenges facing the region’s people. This practice integrated Nome’s rich local culture with the hospital’s ultimate design.

It was clear from my conversation with Anne that curiosity is a core component of an architect’s job. When asked what her favorite thing about working at Mahlum was, Anne responded, “I get to learn something new every day. Right now, I’m learning about autism. How wonderful is that? I get to learn about new ideas that I don’t touch, but I’m learning through the work we’re touching.”

This passion for learning is exactly what we work to nurture through our arts education programming at Arts Corps. My conversation with Anne clarified that we at Arts Corps share a commitment to spaces that cultivate learning and creativity with our friends at Mahlum.

We’re immensely grateful for their partnership!


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