Tacoma art community finds a home in Ebony and Ivory Coffee

With the recent loss of many art spaces, the Tacoma art community seems to have found a new and spacious art space in a new cafe.

In honor of MLK day and week I decided to treat my curiosity and explore the new Black-owned coffee shop that has opened just two blocks away from campus on Broadway Street. The reason I did such a thing is to remember how art played a massive role during the Civil Rights Era n showing the harsh reality many faced, having their voices heard, and inspiring others to join the movement. Recently, the way the art scene in Tacoma has been disappearing makes it feel like we’re having voices censored and safe places taken away. However, Ebony and Ivory Coffee Shop seems to have become the new home for local artists to showcase their art.

Ever since the beginning of the pandemic Tacoma’s streets have been changing drastically, from roads being fixed to sadly losing many small businesses. Most recently, Tacoma has been losing its art scene that was starting to grow, thanks to the high rents in Seattle pushing newer artists down South. The biggest loss for the Tacoma art community last year was on October 28, 2023, when Alma, which was the biggest multipurpose arts and education center in the city, closed permanently. It was a center that many local artists called home and many locals and others would go to, to attend artists’ events like galleries and small raves like the Shrek Rave this past October.

By hosting a variety of events, Alma truly lived up to its promise and slogan of being the artistic home of Tacoma’s food, music, art and culture, like South Sound Magazine recalls. Losing this massive safe place for artist impacts many, including the UWT community, for many school events like SAB’s open mic and DJ opportunities, as music club president Jadin Hawkins told Ledger reporter Rachel Meatte in issue 12.

Although the art community has suffered this massive loss with many others, a month after Alma closed, the community has found a new safe place to call home, Ebony and Ivory Coffee.

The cafe’s counter shows the large variety of wines they offer for costumers to try along with their other drinks. | Photo by Cameron J Berrens

Opening their very first shop in Lacey, Washington, creativity has been one of their core values, which they define as looking into their industry with childlike wonder and imagination on the official shop’s website. The young owners, couple Kennon & Kenzie, soon found their coffee shop expanding into other cities like Tacoma.

Officially opening on Broadway Street on November 18, 2023, right away they embraced their core value of creativity by hosting a small opening party, where local artisans like Tacoma small business Golden Flame Jewelry sold their craftsmanship. Immediately afterwards, the shop hosted three other artist events back-to-back in December, like the Downtown Tacoma Partnership’s Holiday Tacoma Art Market, and giving the stage to UWT poets from Dr. Sarah A. Chavez’s TWRT 270 poetry class.

Based off all this information, it is without a doubt in my opinion that Ebony and Ivory is slowly becoming the new home for Tacoma artists.

Because there is evidence online backing up this belief of mine, I decided to investigate what is attracting artists to this new place. So, on January 2, I grabbed my notebook and went to seek my answer. I believe that I indeed found it, for the creative writer cocktail mix I have within me as a fiction prose writer and poet felt right at home the moment I entered the café.

Right away stepping through the door I was able to clearly see how big the café was, which impressed me a lot, since many cafes close to campus are relatively small. The café is split into three different levels that are easy to access yet still provide the privacy costumers desire when socializing with loved ones or doing individual work like studying.

However, the first floor is by far the largest of the Tacoma location, its spaciousness seen through the variety of table sizes and couches scattered throughout the floor. This makes the cafe feel very open, unlike other coffees shops like Starbucks. As an artist who is shy and panics when people are close to me while I write, this sense of open space made me feel comfortable to write. I didn’t have the fear of someone accidentally bumping into me and spilling coffee on my notebook, nor looking over my shoulder easily without my knowledge to read what I’m writing. The space is easy to navigate and the chances of interfering with people’s personal space is low.

Additionally, the tables and lounging spaces by the windows heighten the sense of privacy even more with long white sheer curtains that divide the sections from each other. Acting like a divider to provide groups and individuals a sense of privacy in their discussion or work, these curtains also allow customers to feel like they aren’t alone in a way that isn’t uncomfortable. In my opinion, this careful organization and interior design of the sitting locations provides comfort to the customers, just as the décor set up helps provide privacy as well as the opportunity to socialize in a very balanced way that isn’t awkward. This is probably why it has attracted writers to the café due to finding it to be a safe place to work.

As an artist and student who finds herself sometimes working in cafes when I travel off campus, I struggle sometimes to find a table that allows me to have my Surface, textbooks, and journals side by side. At Ebony and Ivory that doesn’t seem to be a problem at all. As a writer this is very helpful, for now I don’t find myself leaning over the table or diving into my backpack to grab my peer review editing notes to finish my creative writing work. Lastly, I can definitely see why Tacoma Writes hosted their writer meet up here on December 14. The tables, large in width and length, allow for big groups to meet and do things like peer reviews and group sharing. As a UWT writing studies major and PNW writer and cosplayer, I find myself meeting local artists at cafes to work together during our own free time. Seeing the tables provide a space for group meetings is quite attracting.

This setup is also beneficial to anyone hosting an arts market. As someone who knows many small business owners who attend conventions and art markets to sell their products and has tabled for the Seattle Art Museum, I know that setting up for an event can be very stressful, especially when transporting your own table. You have the stress of trying to fit all your products on your table in a way that isn’t overwhelming to look at. At the same time there is the worry that the table will collapse and break the products if not set up properly, or if it got damaged while transporting it. Sometimes it’s both! But at Ebony and Ivory, the tables are already provided, and are large enough that I can also see why many art markets have been hosted there. The aforementioned curtain dividers could be used as spacers between the artists’ tables.

The large open venue of the first floor allows for very big art events to happen. Yet, the café also provides an event room on the second floor. The event room is quite large, but not as huge as the main floor. It is a big room that can possibly fit a party of 30. It also provides a sense of privacy thanks to the sheer white curtains that cover the window facing into the building. The location of the event room provides both privacy and opportunity to socialize with the public by being close to the first floor.

The piano on the third-floor lounge is open for anyone to play it’s ivory keys. | Photo by Lesley McLam

Similarly, the third floor is just like the second floor when it comes to the privacy and socializing aspect. A balcony that looks over the shop and has a full view of the first floor, it is the smallest space in the cafe. There is a black piano located there with a large couch against the wall for people to sit in. If one is to play the piano, not only will people sitting on the third floor will hear but the entire café will, including the second floor if they wish to have the event room door open. Plus, if you are to enter from South 13th Street, you’ll see the piano overlooking the glass railing.

The notion that it gave me as an artist is that the piano appearing close to the busy street entrance invites pianists to climb up the stairs to play the piano. The café’s playlist being played softly in the background would allow everyone, especially workers, to hear someone playing the instrument easily.
The space on the third floor also makes it easy for musical artists to set up and play there due to how large it is, which is where I can only assume the live music happened during Ebony and Ivory’s Tacoma opening. Even if my assumption is incorrect, the fact still stands that the music community within Tacoma may also find a home there as other artist groups have.

Keep in mind that even though it seems that Ebony and Ivory Coffee is becoming the new sanctuary for Tacoma art to flourish in, it isn’t big as Alma or other places we’ve lost. That means raves and big concerts will definitely not be happening at the café. Still, smaller music events could be hosted here. But my view on the coffee shop becoming the new home for Tacoma artists still stands, because it can still hold small art events like artist markets, poetry readings, and artist meet ups, as it already has been.

We may even see more UWT events being held there in the near future! If you’re interested in exploring this coffee shop, it is located on Broadway and South 13th Street, on the corner of the Pacific Plaza building. They are open both weekdays and weekends.

Ebony & Ivory Coffee, in downtown Tacoma, is open seven days a week. | Photo by Cameron J. Berrens