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Originally published February 20, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 20, 2007 at 7:22 AM

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Vera Project: movin' on up

When it comes to teens, it's so easy to be a snickering cynic. Invest in a music center for a bunch of thugs, with their drugs and graffiti...

Seattle Times staff reporter

When it comes to teens, it's so easy to be a snickering cynic.

Invest in a music center for a bunch of thugs, with their drugs and graffiti and aggressive skateboarding and baggy pants? Why spend any money on them?

A small group of Seattle residents decided to fight this cynical attitude with positive action: Build the kids a place where they can enjoy live rock and hip-hop music, and they will thrive and form a vibrant community.

And in 2001, with partial funding by the city, the Vera Project was born. With its friendly Latin name ("VERA" is an acronym of the phrase veri et recti amici, or "true and sincere friend"), it soon became the go-to place for thousands of Seattle teenagers. Here was a spot where they could listen to live music, attend classes on things like break-dancing and making T-shirts, share vegan food, become part of the decision-making process as a volunteer -- or just hang, in a no-smoking, no-drinking, nonviolent environment.

Opening week

Vera Project grand opening: A 3 p.m. ribbon-cutting with Mayor Greg Nickels gets things started today at the new location in Seattle Center (the old Snoqualmie Room). This weekend's three-night-concert stand is free, with doors opening Friday-Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

Friday: Common Market, Grayskul, Youth Movement Records and Khingz

Saturday: These Arms Are Snakes, Akimbo, Elphaba, Talbot Tagora and Panther

Sunday: Mount Eerie, Holy Ghost Revival, Tiny Vipers, Ghost to Falco and Yacht

It worked just fine, for quite a while. Then, the Vera Project had to leave its first temporary home. Then its second. And a third. At this point, it might have been easy for the Vera to fold up, saying: Sorry, kids -- you're on your own!

But, like a good-hearted Freddy Krueger, the Vera Project refused to die, rising to the challenge of finding a permanent home ... and quite possibly coming out far better. Basement to the penthouse, right here.

After the equivalent of couch-surfing over the years, most recently on a run-down space on Fourth Avenue, the all-ages venue will unveil today its sparkling new home, a 6,500-square-foot, intensely redesigned space in Seattle Center.

Today's "ribbon-cutting" will thank politicians, corporations and other donors. Then the Vera Project flips on the music switch this weekend, with a Common Market-headlined hip-hop show on Friday, These Arms are Snakes and other hard rockers on Saturday, and art-pop acts Mount Eerie and Tiny Vipers on Sunday. Everything's free this weekend; afterward, covers will range from $5 to $10.

Once the festivities pass, the Vera Project will host two to three shows per week (calendar and more details at www.theveraproject.org). In addition to a concert area for crowds up to 300, there are separate rooms that will house classes and workshops, an art gallery, a printing studio (T-shirts, posters) and a recording studio.

How will the recording studio work?

"We don't know yet," answered Melissa Quayle, with a we're-totally-winging-this chuckle.

The program director can afford to laugh, these days, as the Vera has raised nearly $1.5 million of its needed $1.8 million. Even though the VP remains $300,000-plus short of its goal, enough money has been brought in to complete the renovation, with a short-term loan covering the difference. "When I saw a new map of Seattle Center, and the Snoqualmie Room was gone and the Vera Project was on it, I said, 'Oh my God, it's really happening!' " Quayle said as she stood in an empty, freshly painted room that will soon be the Vera's art gallery.

All ages in Seattle


The Vera Project: It's hardly the only place for all-ages music around Seattle. El Corazon, Chop Suey, Neumos, the Showbox, Studio Seven and other clubs often have all-ages shows. Art galleries and museums have been open to mixing music and art, too. And don't forget record stores: Easy Street, Sonic Boom, Silver Platters and others often have bands performing live -- free and open to all ages. Some other all-ages spots:

Gallery 1412: This tiny, no-frills east Capitol Hill venue has become a regular spot for all-ages shows (1412 18th Ave. E., www.gallery1412.org).

Mr. Spots Chai House: A groovy place in Ballard, Mr. Spots is one of the best of Seattle's cafe/music spots, with frequent acoustic and pop acts (5463 Leary Ave. N.W., www.chaihouse.com).

Coffee To a Tea With Sugar: Another place for all-ages music, in West Seattle (4541 California Ave. S.W., 206-937-1495).

Note: The Paradox, a Mars Hill Church-connected space that had been putting on shows since 1999, recently went on "indefinite hiatus," as the church decides how to run it.

Quayle is one of the Vera's two full-time staffers. (There are four other part-time staff members and more than a dozen volunteers who help run the shows.) In the year since Vera left its previous space, she has been keeping the music going, with Thursday-night acoustic shows at yet another a temporary space.

Shannon Roach, the executive director and other full-timer, has spent the last year overseeing construction management.

In late 2005, the Vera was told its Fourth Avenue building was soon to be -- this being Seattle -- torn down for condos. Space at Seattle Center's Snoqualmie Room was offered up, if the Vera could come up with the money to convert it. Mayor Greg Nickels got the ball rolling, big time, with major start-up money.

According to Quayle, "The city contributed a total of $450,000 to the Capital Campaign, and currently supports Vera's operating budget at a level of $50,000 per year."

Pledges of $140,000 each from the Gates and Allen foundations started to push the pedal toward the medal, and a recent auction that raised $200,000 floored it, enabling the Vera to skip merrily toward the finish line. (Check out the full list of donors at www.vivavera.org).

While Pearl Jam and radio stations KNDD and KEXP wrote big checks, not all in the Seattle music community are thrilled over the Vera Project's run-for-the-money. Last month the Stranger's music blog had a rather lively debate about this city-and-corporate-supported music venue (http://thestranger.com/lineout/2007/01/is_the_vera_project).

"Someone explain to me again why kids need a million dollar palace so that adults can facilitate their rebellion," one blog poster demanded. "About as anti-rock and roll as it gets. Sheesh. It's such an obvious subversion of punk. Might as well have Journey sponsor the whole project!"

Another griped of "a sanitized version of what rock and roll is all about ... smells like teen spirit, indeed."

Speaking of which, one staunch defender is Megan Jasper, the general manager of Sub Pop -- which launched a pre-"Smells Like Teen Spirit" Nirvana. She sits on the Vera Project's board of directors.

"I not only think that the Vera Project is important, but I believe that it's crucial," Jasper said recently via e-mail.

"Every kid should have the right to learn about the things that interest them. And in Seattle, every kid should have the right to be a part of a rich community with an extraordinary history."

As Aaron Mannino sang, at a recent Vera acoustic show:

"So we may not change the world

but we just might get our turn ... "

Tom Scanlon: tscanlon@seattletimes.com

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