Conservative Seattle church Mars Hill has decided to take back the Paradox, an all-ages club that it founded in 1999, from the secular volunteers who are currently managing the space. The move has been in the works for the past week and is the result of a quiet meeting during which Paradox booker Alicia Blake was asked to give back her building keys and was told that her last show at the venue will be December 16. Mars Hill leaders' reasoning? They want to tie the all-ages music venue in closer to the church. But even they don't know what that means yet.
It’s no secret that the controversial Mars Hill has subsidized the Paradox since its inception. In the beginning, members of Mars Hill Church ran and booked the space. It was the church's way of reaching out to Seattle's youth and securing a place in the local music scene. At the time there was no Vera Project, the Teen Dance Ordinance (TDO) was still in effect, and the struggling all-ages music community needed all the help it could get.
But as the all-ages scene changed, so did the Paradox. The Vera Project started up, the TDO was lifted, allowing bars to host all-ages shows, and control of the Paradox moved out of the hands of Mars Hill members. The venue stayed afloat thanks to the hard work of longtime volunteers like Blake and Promotions Director Liz Martin.
If you’ve gone to a show at the Paradox in the past year or so, you’ve probably seen Martin and Blake—they’re always there, and they’ve worked hard to keep the Paradox an open and comfortable place for everyone. Not only do they not allow the church’s beliefs to affect the acts booked at the venue (neither of them attend the church), but they also show up early at each show to remove all church paraphernalia like newsletters, fliers, and bibles from the band load-in room (which doubles as the church’s foyer). To be at the Paradox was not to be at Mars Hill, and they made sure of that.
But at the end of this year, the Paradox will be switching management. As noted before, Mars Hill has decided that it wants to bring the venue closer to the church.
In an e-mail sent Tuesday, October 10, Blake and Martin wrote:
Due to some internal changes happening within the church, Mars Hill decided to review all of their programs, including the Paradox. The church has made a decision to bring the Paradox in closer to the church, and we have been informed a group of Mars Hill members will be taking over Paradox operations. We were asked if we would like to take part in these changes, but we have both decided it would be in our best interest to not be a part of this new version of the venue, as we both would not feel comfortable working in this new environment.
This is the result of a discussion Blake had with members of the church last week. At the time, Blake hoped to completely separate the Paradox from the church and to continue using the Paradox name to book shows in Seattle (she’s been the reason it’s existed for the past few years, anyway). But Mars Hill representatives said the church wanted to keep the name, and not only that, take back control of the space.
Our nonprofit status is tied to the church, as are some of our finances, but this has recently come up as a subject both Liz and I have touched on, with the intent to separate the Paradox for the first time from the church. Over the past few months, Liz and I had considered a few different ideas, which included separating the Paradox from the church, possibly moving the venue and opening elsewhere. After a series of meetings with the heads of the church, we have found our vision for the Paradox does not coincide with the church's vision.
After the meeting, Blake was asked to return her building keys. She also cleaned out her office, packing up demos and binders of booking information. And yesterday morning, the church made another bold move by changing the passwords for all Paradox e-mail addresses, including Blake's personal address, denying her access despite the fact she still has a number of shows already booked between now and December 16. She was granted access later the same afternoon, after she complained, but she still doesn't have access to the Paradox's e-mail list, website, or volunteer e-mail list.
With all the action the church has taken in recent days, you’d think they have big plans for the music venue. But they actually have no idea what will happen with the Paradox.
Bubba Jennings, a staff member at Mars Hill who was part of the original Paradox crew back in 1999, says, "We’re still figuring everything out. We know we need to reevaluate the Paradox. All we know is, we are most likely going to continue to do shows. We do want the Paradox to be a little bit closer tied in with Mars Hill but it doesn’t look like there’s going to be preaching at shows. We’re not going to do anything like that."
So what are they going to do?
During a phone conversation yesterday afternoon, Jennings said: "We're not really sure what we're going to do. We want to continue to do shows; we're not going to change anything, like the format or anything. We'll continue to do the same type of shows and stuff like that."
"You're not going to change anything at all?" I asked him.
“We really don’t know. We want it to be tied in a little bit closer with the church and we don’t know what that means. The last thing we want is for the Paradox to become an inhospitable space to people that are not involved with Mars Hill. The whole reason Mars Hill has done it is for it to be a hospitable club to the city with no strings attached, and that’s going to continue. Mars Hill has probably invested probably over $400,000 in the Paradox over the years. And we really value the local music scene and want to see it prosper. I’m not saying the Paradox hasn’t been accomplishing those things, it’s just at a place where, you know, we feel like we need to reevaluate how can it serve the city best and we don’t really know what that looks like yet.”
Jennings also admits, though, that the change in management will leave some people to question the venue's intentions.
"I think it will leave a lot of people to question and time will show the truth of what the Paradox is about. People should see it, taste it, touch it, and then draw their own conclusions."
Yet, they still don't know what "it" is or will be?
"To be honest with you, Megan, I had hoped we were going to have all of this figured out before we went public with it," Jennings said. "We don't have all the answers yet because we weren't planning on sharing it until we knew exactly what was going on."
I asked him why, if there aren't any plans for the venue, are all the drastic changes being made with such urgency. But he didn't have an answer. It seems likely that the church lost track of the Paradox over the years, and didn't realize that the venue had become so separated from Mars Hill. Once it came to the church leaders' attention that the Paradox was seemingly out of their hands (with the exception of financial ties), it appears they panicked.
The shows that Blake and Martin have booked at the Paradox will go on as planned, with the last one taking place December 16. After that, the women have already started making plans for their new production company, Make Believe, which will continue booking music shows (both all-ages and 21+) at various venues throughout the city.