The Gathering Place
Photographer Nick Balera may only be 26 years old. He’s an old soul who has opened the doors of his personal space to help build a community of individuals who share a vision for Gig Harbor.
Balera is the owner of The Harbor Studio, a storefront that serves as the artistic outlet for his video and photography business. He has swung open the doors of his business to bring together business owners with creative minds who, he hopes, will fill the sidewalks, front doors and windows of local commerce with examples of artistic innovation.
“The studio began by providing space for local artists and freelancers to hone their skills,” he explained. “It quickly grew to become a safe place for artists to share hopes and dreams. Everybody wants Gig Harbor to become an example of how art can enhance the community and become an important clog in the machinery of success.”
The native of Port Orchard describes his studio as a “creative event space” that serves as a hub for the creative community in Gig Harbor. The Harbor Studio, he said, has become a blank canvas for the blend of art and business.
From his perspective, Gig Harbor is a tight-knit community with a history of supporting local businesses and business owners. The Harbor Studio is Balera’s way to help the wave of new, younger residents feel part of the village.
His immediate goal is to establish a relationship with the city of Gig Harbor to provide a direct pipeline of creative ideas to become public art. His current passion has been the establishment of a Creative Residency that provides free studio time for artists working on a specific project. Artists are invited to apply for the residency online with a description of how they envision an end-product will benefit the community. Those selected receive 15 hours of free studio time, which, Balera said, usually breaks down to three half-days to create and produce a project they are passionate about.
“People can use the time to book 10 shoots for a video,” Balera said, “then use the balance of the time to create something they may not have the time or the capabilities to produce on their own.”
The artist-in-residence emphasized the Creative Residency does not include any instruction, but it does make the backdrops and lighting at the studio available for creative outlets.
Students, young professionals and musicians were the first people to access advice from Balera for videos to promote their own projects. They were followed by business owners who utilized the studio owner’s ability to tell a story with pictures to promote their own business. Others have created music videos that document entire concerts that musicians have used to market themselves to venues and record labels.
“They are not music videos in the MTV image most people have,” Balera said. “They are marketing tools with a creative flair that use musicians and the music they create.”
Some would-be artists have used the equipment at the studio to create podcasts and a variety of medias to honor veterans in the community.
The Harbor Studio reflects the laid-back attitude of its owner. The Washington native said many people who come to the studio ask if he grew up in Tennessee because of his casual drawl.
“The studio is an extension of who I am and what I want to bring to this community,” said Balera. “It’s much easier to connect with somebody you can relate to than a serious face who fills a video by blurting out generic language of self-promotion.”
In addition to the creative space he has created, Balera also hosts a weekly Coffee Club on Monday mornings, where he serves free coffee and pastries to business owners who want to market themselves to other professionals in the community.
Unlike formal networking organizations, he said the Coffee Club is a casual gathering of like-minded business owners who explore ways to help each other reach their business goals and fulfill their visions.
“I am a person who thrives on relationships,” he explained. “It is vitally important to know the person and the story behind every business and their dreams. We all have similar passions and goals that are often parallel.”
For Balera, that goal is supporting a cause to make the world a better place. He described his photography and his studio as “a means to a higher good.” He compared his efforts to the coffee company that only uses beans from fair trade sources to generate profits that are donated to efforts to end human trafficking.
Dan Aznoff is a freelance writer based in Mukilteo, Washington. He was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the toxic waste crisis and has received acclamation for his work in the areas of sustainable energy and the insurance industry. He is the author of three books that document colorful periods of history in Washington. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.