Music

Gray Matter

A fond farewell at Make.Shift

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

It was make or break for Make.Shift Art Space when Katie Gray took over the role as executive director in January of 2018. With a questionable future, Gray saw two outcomes for the organization—growing and becoming a staple in the community, or completely fizzling out.

Make.Shift, a nonprofit located in downtown Bellingham, is an all-ages maker’s space that supports local artists and musicians through 21 studios, a live music venue, art gallery and the KZAX radio station.

“I feel really, really proud that the organization I’ll be handing off to the next leader is in a really good place,” Gray says, noting that her time as executive director is officially coming to an end on the last day of 2020, when former gallery director Jessyca Murphy takes the reins.

Gray, a musician who was working in commercial radio before getting involved with Make.Shift in 2017 as the station manager, had previously worked with the organization to host her music festival, MiniHam. In the new year, she stepped into the role of executive director.

Jess Flegel, superintendent at Make.Shift, met Gray when she took the position. She says Make.Shift has been a labor of love and when Gray came in it was established, but still “rough around the edges.”

“Katie has done wonders to wrap up all the loose ends,” Flegel says. “The radio station seems like it’s been thriving since she’s been in charge.”

Gray had no prior experience in management or working at nonprofits. She said it was intimidating at first because there was a lot she had to teach herself, as well as making sure there were enough funds to start paying her full-time salary.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Gray says. “I mean, just a huge learning curve. There’s been so much growth that has happened.”

Fundraising, expanding internship programs, making community connections and planning events are ways in which Flegel measures Gray’s success over the past three years. Flegel also says there was also a lot of behind-the-scenes administrative work where Gray excelled.

In 2018, annual net profits grew from $5,533 to $8,436 once Gray took over—a 52 percent increase. Gray said even the 2020 fundraisers taking place during the pandemic have been the most successful in the history of Make.Shift.

Emily Campbell, Gray’s assistant—and now Murphy’s—has been working at Make.Shift for less than a year, but knew Gray beforehand.

Campbell spoke about Gray’s leadership, stating “She’s always very grounded and calm. I admire that so much. As the director, there are so many hats to juggle and she wore each of them stunningly.”

Although Campbell is sad to see Gray leave, she believes change is also important and is excited for her next chapter.

“She’s become a dear friend,” Campbell says. “She’s always believed in me and my ideas and contributions.”

Reflecting on her time at Make.Shift, Gray says it took her around a year and a half to feel confident in what she was doing. With the weight of what she was taking on, there were moments where she was intimidated, but she was also excited about the challenge of making a difference and shaping the future of the organization.

As far as what Gray is most proud of, she states that expanding the role of KZAX was the most fulfilling, saying it’s “grown so much in the subconscious of the scene.”

Forrest Camire, KZAX program and venue director, has a friendship with Gray that extends far beyond Make.Shift.

“Katie has established so much infrastructure at Make.Shift,” Camire says, also noting how Gray put systems in place that supported staff members in completing tasks.

Camire adds he could not have completed anything without Gray’s guidance and her radio and broadcasting knowledge.

“She has this go-getter attitude and this no-nonsense attitude, but also is just so gentle and kind and understanding and compassionate,” he says when describing Gray as both a boss and a friend.

Camire says Gray has also created a space for kids on the radio station, and that she has a passion for helping youth and peers in the community develop their artistic expression and abilities.

Gray is proud of expanding KZAX listeners, which she feels the larger studio space is representative of.

“It’s surreal sometimes to just sit in the studio and look around and think about the sound of the station,” Gray says. “It’s just a beacon of lovely memory for me and something I’m very proud to have been a part of growing.”

Gray says part of the reason she’s leaving is from feeling burnt out. As a leader, she worked so hard to develop a workplace culture that wouldn’t burn others out that she forgot to do the same for herself.

Gray plans to step back from leadership for the time being and do more of a “clock in, clock out” job where she’s able to put her mental energy into her own creative projects. She also wants to make space for her position at Bellingham Girls Rock Camp.

“I’m just happy to have played a role in the scene and hopefully feel like I have made an impact for the better,” Gray says. “I’m excited to see what happens next.”

Camire believes Gray will find success in whatever she decides to do. He says she is very focused and driven and he’s excited for her to explore other opportunities and to spread her wings beyond Make.Shift.

“I have more love and respect for Katie Gray than just about anybody else I know,” Camire says. “Katie is really just such an upstanding individual.”

As 2020 draws to a close, Make.Shift is still experiencing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and necessary shutdowns. To help the nonprofit thrive, go to http://www.makeshiftproject.com/donate

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