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Artist’s show a reminder of civic blooms

Sat., Jan. 16, 2010

Years ago, I attended a tribute at Interplayers for the artist Harold Balazs.

Someone uttered a phrase during that tribute that has stuck with me ever since: “He bloomed where he was planted.”

I had never heard that particular sentiment. To say it struck a nerve would be an understatement. It expressed a perspective on life – and a suggestion about how to live – that I found liberating. I also found it especially apt for Spokane, where people sometimes apologize for simply being here.

I have since seen that phrase in other places, even embroidered on a sampler: “Bloom where you’re planted.”

Maybe it has become a cliché, yet I still find it to be the perfect antidote to the pervasive suspicion that we can’t make an impact unless we move to Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York.

The line was uttered, if my shaky memory serves, by either Bob or Joan Welch, the founders of Interplayers. It perfectly applies to Balazs, the region’s most beloved artist. This week, I was reminded of Balazs – and of that long-ago tribute – when I saw that he is exhibiting 80 new works at the Art Spirit Galley in Coeur d’Alene.

Eighty new works! Not bad for an artist who recently turned 81.

Balazs has lived and worked all of his adult life in the Spokane area. Yet his impact is certainly not limited to this area. You’ll find public sculptures and installations by Balazs all over the Northwest. Actually, you’ll even find him in the Smithsonian. Boy, did he ever bloom.

“Bloom where you’re planted” can also apply, with equal precision, to the people who uttered that line. Bob and Joan Welch came out of the creative ferment of the New York theater scene of the 1940s. They landed, for various reasons, back in Bob’s hometown of Spokane. Did they sit around and fret over their remoteness from the center of the theater world?

No. They simply went to work and created their own professional theater, Interplayers, enriching Spokane’s cultural life for decades and nurturing hundreds of artists. Bob is no longer with us, but Joan is, and so is Interplayers, almost 30 years later. Interplayers continues to deliver live theater to a city that, let’s face it, needs live theater far more than New York, which has plenty.

As Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches, I also think of another late Spokane resident: Carl Maxey. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a perfect day to remember him, since Maxey was a civil rights leader and a King disciple. Maxey was a new, ambitious lawyer in the 1950s, and he certainly could have moved to a bigger city, one with a larger black population and more opportunities. Yet he remained in Spokane, a place that needed its own prod toward equality.

I can think of many others – writers, artists, doctors and advocates of all kinds – who found themselves rooted in Spokane. Instead of wishing they were somewhere else, they somehow found the soil to their liking and burst into flower.

They grasped one simple concept: The critical question in life is not where you’re planted, but how luxuriously you blossom.

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