Tiffanny Hammonds, 22, works as the Fab-5 Space Manager and Visual Arts Teacher at their HQ in Hilltop, Tacoma. Tiffanny has been with Fab-5 for over 10 years and can even recount her first interaction with Fab in her home.
“In essence Fab saved my life, because I never really knew that I could be an artist, you know?” says Tiffanny. “I never saw this for me, I never had that future planned out. I loved art but I never knew that I’d be an artist, and I didn’t figure that out until I was a part of Fab.”
It began with a Fab-5 instructor visiting her home to complete a mural for her father. After noticing her creative drawings on the refrigerator, she began painting murals with one of the current co-directors, Chris Paul Jordan. Fast-forward a decade and Tiffanny is no longer a student, but the Space Manager and Visual Arts Instructor at their new HQ in Hilltop, Tacoma.
Fab-5 is a nonprofit organization and initiative that empowers youth in Tacoma through artistic self-expression to cultivate community-oriented and creative leaders through mentorship and programming. Fab-5 also collaborates with different community organizations part of the Graduate Tacoma movement to support students in other aspects of their life, while being true to their youth-driven roots and mission of inspiring change in their surroundings.
“Pretty much everything that happens through Fab and with Fab starts with youth,” she says. “Everything has to go within our mission of making sure that youth are able to create freely, and become expressive leaders.”
Launched 19 years ago, Fab-5 began with a group of young people in Pierce County who wanted more opportunities and access “for young people to gather, connect, and create.” The Fab-5 movement utilized undervalued resources to create opportunities for creative expression for youth in Tacoma. Some of these resources include transforming an underused radio station into a broadcasting platform for youth, and transforming former businesses into a creative education center for youth throughout the weekdays.
Although there is the HQ in Hilltop today, Fab-5 did not start there nor do they plan on ending there. Fab was once only held on Saturdays during the summer at Stewart Middle School, also called Fab-5’s L.I.F.E. Program. Then came the Fabitat (A Space for Creativity) on Martin Luther King Jr Way, which divided their program into classes that later merged. These classes saw over 200 young people coming through the space during the weekdays, and all these different styles of art flowed together in the Fabitat.
“There were no doors. So it was just like one trail of different kinds of music and everyone’s just, you know, vibing,” says Tiffanny.
The classes offered at Fab-5 were designed to be inclusive and open spaces for creativity, while also being free for the youth participating. The three classes offered in their new HQ include music production and songwriting, breakdancing, and visual arts. All the equipment and materials are completely free for youth to use and create at HQ.
“This kind of learning environment isn’t offered to kids because you have to pay for it or you have to pay to learn these things,” says Ariel Advincula, instructor of breakdancing at Fab-5’s HQ.
“Watching those kids battle against each other and just learn from the whole community when that generally isn’t accessible to them, I think that’s dope.”
The impact of art and creativity on kids is not something to be overlooked. Along with providing a space to create, Fab-5 also works alongside students serving as mentors through their artistic journey. This is part of their mission to empower youth as creative leaders who inspire and create change in their surroundings.
Fab-5 has maintained a presence on the Eastside of Tacoma and Hilltop with its Fabitat and HQ spaces, which has become integral to their work serving students equitably. The demographic of students served are mostly black and brown students, led by a diverse staff to match.
“There’s all types of people on our staff,” explains Ariel. We have non-binary folk, trans folk, queer folk, people of color, just all of the above. And we’re constantly educating each other and educating the kids.”
Partnering with Community for Community
Fab-5’s impact reaches beyond their Fabitat and HQ spanning across Tacoma and serving students in different forms. Community collaboration is essential to the way Fab-5 operates, specifically with partnerships that are youth-driven and aligned in values of equity and inclusion.
“We need to ensure that we’re always creating a safe space for people of color, queer folks, folks of all different backgrounds, and not everyone’s always down for that,” says Tiffanny.
Partnerships for Fab-5 range from serving students directly to working on the other facets of a young person’s life that stand in the way of their creativity. Tacoma has a variety of murals that artists from Fab-5 have worked on, many of which included students getting hands-on experience. Hammonds recalls working on the mural for the People’s Center (formerly known as the Malcolm X Center), which first meant offering a mural intensive course to youth for the project. Students were able to learn how to paint on a larger scale, and then got hands on experience painting a mural in Hilltop.
From there, youth have been able to practice and develop their artistic skills with Fab-5 across Tacoma. The youth served by Fab-5 gain more than art-based skills, but also life skills that are part of the mission of empowering successful, community-driven leaders through creativity.
“They just want to do their thing and build their confidence. Letting them perform in front of each other, messing up, making mistakes, you know, teaching them how to make a mistake and rebound,” says Bruce LeeRoy, a long-time instructor on songwriting, music production, and rapping.
#DesignTheHill is a current community partnership with the Tacoma Housing Authority to create a plan for 250 affordable housing units in Hilltop. HQ has hosted the various phases of the partnership inviting youth, neighbors, and elders of the Hilltop community to “shape the development of the units and new community, commercial and retail space across four Tacoma Housing Authority properties near the MLK corridor” according to Fab-5.
The partnership was intentional on collaborating with community members to design first-floor business spaces, affordable housing units, community spaces, culturally relevant building design, rooftops alleys, streets, and sidewalks.
“We can speak on what we know Hilltop to be, but if we’re creating a project and we don’t get input from our community, that’s a little backwards and it’s just kind of implementing the same thing that’s already happening in our community,” says Tiffanny Hammonds.
This partnership is ongoing, and is currently working towards the third phase of #DesignTheHill. The first phase began with a Co-Director of Fab-5, Chris Paul Jordan, recruiting and convening a team of community engagement specialists whom had connection to Hilltop, past and present. Artists of color then went into different communities in Hilltop and connected with elders, youth, and the homeless community to engage and inform on the project at hand.
The second phase for #DesignTheHill focused on community outreach and brought in community members to begin designing the housing units, retail, commercial, and community spaces near the Martin Luther King corridor. Data from the second phase of #DesignTheHill comprised survey results and community feelings on the design process and how to move forward. The final phase of the partnership will be implementing what was designed and discussed during #DesignTheHill at Fab-5’s HQ with community members. This is set to occur between 2022 and 2025.
“When the community comes in and gets involved with us, I feel like we’re all learning from each other, versus it just being the same binary, white spaces,” says Ariel.
Fab-5 intends on growing the work they do across Tacoma, and partnering with other groups and organizations that hold the same values of equity and access for youth. Certain workshops for youth are currently pending as they get ready to enter the new academic year, but they are hoping to bring West African dancing and DJing to HQ. With the relocation, their efforts have also focused on outreach in Tacoma to increase attendance and get Fab-5 full each day.
“But if anything, I want to see people get paid for doing art,” says Tiffanny. “I want to see our students get paid for doing art. I want to see our students in galleries. I want to see our students in spaces creating, winning, doing all this stuff that they need to.”
Almost two decades later, Fab-5 continues to be a free space for youth to create and collaborate, inspiring change in their communities. Fab-5 intends on remaining youth and community driven, filling up the space and continuing to pass it on.
“Fab-5 is a free, life-changing situation, so if you’re ready to get your life changed in any kind of aspect, which honestly starts with you, come through Fab,” says Tiffanny.
Mark Hernandez is a Summer 2019 SEED Intern with the Foundation for Tacoma Students. He is currently a senior at Pacific Lutheran University studying Communication and Sociology.