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Don’t deprive Spokane of a true cultural hero

Tue., June 5, 2012

Message to the flying monkeys running this city: Keep your budget-balancing claws off Karen Mobley.

Getting rid of Spokane’s arts director would be an artless blunder.

Though cutting Mobley’s job hasn’t reached the official stage, the head of our one-woman arts department believes her end is nigh and said as much Sunday in a front-page news story.


Since arriving here in 1997, Mobley has been a true advocate for the arts as well as a loyal representative for the city.

Besides, I have a protective interest here. I used to derive joy from pointing out to Mobley the following: Without a certain columnist she could very well be back in Wyoming where the buffalo still roam.

There’s a smattering of truth to my hyperbole since I had a hand in exposing Mobley’s predecessor.

Arts Director Carolyn Lair was fired by City Manager Bill Pupo after Lair was outted for fabricating and embellishing certain academic claims on her resume.

“Lair was hired by the arts commission, which didn’t verify her academic background,” stated a 1997 story that went on to say that Pupo “did a thorough check” before hiring Mobley.

There’s nothing phony-baloney about Mobley. She arrived here with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Wyoming and a master’s in painting from the University of Oklahoma.

More importantly, however, Mobley is fluent at speaking the language of “Art.”

See, most artists are a touch flaky by nature.

I’m not trying to be disrespectful. I count myself in that assessment when it comes to my music and such.

Just about anyone engaged in an artistic endeavor will exhibit varying degrees of delusion.

Mobley has always been a wonderful Mother Confessor at being able to listen to artists and help them with their cause. Yet she’s also enough of a realist to know what will and what won’t play here in River City.

Spokane, I’m proud to say, is a vibrant, artist-friendly community.

And Mobley has played a big part in getting us there.

The Spokane Sculpture Walk, for example. That’s one of Mobley’s proudest accomplishments.

Turning the Spokane International Airport into a more artistic venue is another.

Sue Bradley, owner of Spokane’s Tinman Gallery, was right on target when she commented in the above-mentioned story regarding the prospect of losing the Arts Department.

“It will be a major cultural tragedy for this city,” she said. “The question is, what does the city stand for?”

Good point.

Nobody bats .1000, of course, and Mobley’s had her cultural missteps.

Like when she invited me to lend a hand when she was looking for artists to submit proposals for enhancing the “visual appearance” of Spokane’s facility that processes 40 million – yes, I said, MILLION – gallons of human sewage a day.

Or the Poo Plant, as I called it.

Did I take this as a serious opportunity to advance the cause of public art?

Of course not.

I seized the opportunity to make cheap jokes like, Vincent “I’ve Gotta” Gogh.

But I’ll never forget Mobley’s sincere optimism about the project and her belief that art can elevate the community into something more than it is.

“The truth is, this is a very good location for art,” she told me.

“The spirit of the public art program is to bring art to the public wherever the city has a presence.”

This is a leader worth keeping.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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