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Downtown art, writing hub Ink aims to build community

The narrow art space at Ink is mostly empty for now, old brick walls and wood floors illuminated by strings of shop lights. Mismatched chairs line the walls, and a heavy bench, rescued from the trash, anchors the north end.

But the group of writers, artists and teachers behind the soon-to-be-officially nonprofit organization sees a collapsible stage in there, a screen-printing press, big communal tables for writing and visual-art classes. Maybe they’ll show movies on the new drywall.

They envision an “art clubhouse” for Spokane-area youth, offering free classes and a hub for artists in search of community.

“We want to make this about the most vibrant place we can imagine,” author Jess Walter, president of Ink Art Space’s board of directors, told about 75 people gathered in the space last week for an informational meeting.

The space is on the 200 block of West Sprague Avenue on the east end of downtown, next to the Bartlett, an all-ages music venue.

With local writers and visual artists serving as teachers, Ink will offer after-school classes and weekend and summer workshops. While organizers haven’t decided if all classes will be free for all youths, no one will be turned away for a lack of money, they said.

“We really want to be able to reach low-income kids, kids whose parents can’t afford to send them to sculpture camp,” Walter told the crowd.

The center is planning a “soft opening” in May with poetry classes and aims to have a full roster of classes in place by fall.

While some classes and workshops will be for younger children and adults, organizers are focusing mostly on serving middle and high school students. By that age, many students either lose the chance to learn creative arts in school or have to choose just one, said board member Kris Dinnison, a writer and downtown business owner.

Organizers want young writers and artists to view Spokane as “a place to be and live, and not to flee,” she said: “The idea here is to create a community of people, so kids can see there is a place to nurture them and there is a place for them.”

If a 16-year-old poet sees a poet in her 20s working happily in Spokane, Walter said Tuesday, “that’s a thrilling thing to pass on.”

Ink Art Space is modeled loosely after 826 Valencia, a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 in San Francisco to help 6- to 18-year-olds get better at writing and reading. Other similar efforts: the Hugo House, a center for writers in Seattle, and the Grotto in San Francisco, an office where writers and others can work among peers.

But Ink will go beyond writing to include classes and mentoring in painting, photography and filmmaking, for example. And it’ll go beyond those walls downtown. Organizers are talking about teaching classes at libraries and in community centers and small towns.

“No cool thing is turned away,” Walter said. “Unless it’s something cool and illegal.”

As the organizers sift through the ideas and questions from the crowd at last week’s session, they’re honing their mission. One clear message, said artist Bess Butterworth, the organization’s executive director: Adult writers and artists, especially those in their 20s, need a community gathering spot, too. So some exhibitions and events might center on instructors’ work.

Ink’s organizers are working on finalizing its nonprofit status with the state and the IRS and obtaining insurance. Its 10 board members are undergoing criminal background checks, as all instructors will be required to do.

And they’re working on various versions of a budget. It’ll need roughly $35,000 a year to run, at least in its first year, Dinnison said. They’ll seek grants and raise money through fundraisers – the first is slated for June – and donations. They’re selling T-shirts.

Among initial expenses: fixing up that nearly empty space, which needs plumbing and better lighting, for starters. (The building is owned by Dan Spalding, an artist and real estate developer who’s giving Ink a “screaming deal” on the rent, Dinnison said.) And Ink’s organizers hope to pay instructors, even if it’s just a small amount.

The effort came together as various members of the community, starting about a year ago, learned about their shared interest and starting talking, first about establishing an 826 Valencia chapter in Spokane and then about creating something new.

Organizers are running now on a private donation and a fair amount of “creative optimism,” Dinnison said.

“I’m sure it sounds a little bit like, ‘Hey, kids, let’s put on a show,’ ” she said.

But, added Butterworth: “There’s momentum in the community now, so we’ve got to run with it.”

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