Visitors enjoy the video-game station at STIFF’s Transmedia Gallery. Photo by Valeria Koulikova
Visitors enjoy the video-game station at STIFF’s Transmedia Gallery. Photo by Valeria Koulikova

The Seattle Transmedia & Independent Film Festival (STIFF) has opened its doors for the 11th time on May 1 at a new temporary location on the corner of Northeast 50th Street and University Way Northeast, formerly known to many as the Pam’s Kitchen restaurant in the University District.

The restaurant that brought Trinidadian cuisine to Seattle moved out of that location last December, leaving the red-and-green walls naked, awaiting its demolition at the end of the year.

Two months before the start of STIFF, programming director Will Chase and artistic director Tim Vernor walked up and down the “Ave” (University Way), trying to find a vacant space where they could settle in for a month to feature their first-ever Transmedia Gallery. However, it wasn’t an easy task to find a short-term home for their new project, especially as a nonprofit organization with a limited budget.

“We started calling people, and for every space, they wanted as much as $6,000 a month to rent it or a 10-year lease,” Vernor said. “When we called and just asked for a month, it wasn’t worth their time.”

STIFF rebranded itself this year, and in addition to continuing screening more than 100 independent films from all over the world, the festival reached out into the transmedia world, and finding a perfect place to accommodate the gallery in the neighborhood that’s become their home over the years was essential.

David Pierre-Louis, owner of the Lucid Lounge (5241 University Way N.E.) and a longtime partner of the festival, helped facilitate the process of getting the newly vacant building.

The landlord was “all for it,” Pierre-Louis explained. “He wanted to continue cultivating life in the neighborhood, and the festival definitely brings a good walk of people and diversity and works well for the neighborhood.”


A new, short-term purpose

After leasing the space, STIFF organizers were free to do anything they wanted with the building because it was slated for demolition. Vernor and his team completely transformed the place to fit their needs, by painting the bright-colored walls white and trying to creatively cover up the signs of decay like hanging a parachute over the ceiling.

Now, it serves as a home for STIFF’s parties and its Transmedia Gallery, which features digital artwork from around the country, such as video installations and video-game stations. The festival team hopes it will become a place where people would come and experience at their own time even beyond the duration of the festival.

“Transmedia is digital storytelling on multiple platforms,” Vernor said. “Not every story can fit into a film format. There’s video games, web series, interactive apps, and there is no place for these projects to be showcased. It’s never been done before, and we are hoping to keep it going for a long time.”

STIFF will be able to keep the space for six months before it’s torn down. While it will remain Transmedia Gallery, it will also become available for other nonprofits to rent out for fundraisers, panels and educational programs. STIFF’s own filmmaking classes will move to the space from its downtown headquarters.

The gallery will also be listed on the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture’s website as a site where artists can feature their work. 


A ‘self-sustained community’

This is not the first time STIFF was able to use a vacant space about to be torn down to host its events. A couple of years ago, it was able to rent out another place on the Ave for its red carpet and festival events; it was also scheduled for demolition.

“I would say it’s a way of living to be supportive of each other this way, especially if it’s quality,” said Pierre-Louis, whose own venue allows local artists to showcase their work. “I’m all about really being a part of a self-sustained community.”

The Storefronts project that’s part of Shunpike, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting local independent artists, also allows artists to showcase their work in vacant storefronts and display windows throughout town. The project started back in 2010, when the economic changes left more and more empty retail spaces on the main streets of Seattle.

“These sorts of impromptu venues and weird transitory spaces can showcase work that may not be shown in a more traditional gallery setting,” said Storefronts coordinator Morgan Cahn. “It brings up questions of city space, of gentrification, of public space. Those questions are important to ask, especially in a city like Seattle that has grown so rapidly and continues changing, with new people arriving daily.”

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