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Tinman closing, Spokane Art School preparing for home of its own

As a “school without walls” after the sale of its downtown building, the Spokane Art School has been putting students to work where it can: learning “open air” painting in parks, making ceramics in teachers’ private studios and – in one class for children – making donkey sculptures and pig drawings in an animal sanctuary.

The school’s purchase of space now occupied by the closing Tinman Gallery on Garland Avenue gives it some walls to call its own.

The school, which first opened in 1968, shut its doors in 2008 and sold its North Howard Street building, putting its money into an endowment fund. After reincorporating as a nonprofit in 2012, the scaled-down school has offered a small roster of classes as its board of directors plotted their next steps.

The purchase of its own space is a big one – although it’ll still be a school without walls to a degree, as it seeks more class space suitable for printmaking and ceramics classes, for example.

The school is buying the Tinman space at 811 W. Garland Ave. and the space next door, at 809 W. Garland, from Sue Bradley, who said the parcel totals roughly 2,000 square feet. She declined to disclose the selling price but said the transfer includes a “partial donation.” The school will take over Aug. 1, she said.

Bradley, who also serves as president of the art school’s board of directors, opened the gallery in 2003. Its closure reflects her desire to at least partially retire. But as a driving force in the Garland business district, Bradley said she’ll finish her term as president of its board of directors and stick around in her role at the art school.

Along with administrative and class areas, the school will maintain some gallery space in the location.

When the Spokane Art School sold its building in 2008, its leaders cited dwindling federal and state support for the arts. Enrollment was down, too. But Bradley said the school is ready for its next move.

While its endowment covers some expenses, the school’s new location “is going to be a bigger jump” financially, she said. “But we feel it’s a prudent jump to make, because the demand for our classes is growing.” The school also plans to launch a fundraising appeal.

The art school offers college-level fine-arts classes, for children and adults, at lower costs, Bradley said.

Spokane resident Rachelle Hartvigsen enrolled in a knitting class in 2003 in the Howard Street building. Now she’s teaching an art school knitting class. Her students are three artists and an 11-year-old girl. The school offers “a place where all these people from different disciplines, or different stages of life and skill levels, can meet and share this information,” she said.

Dena Carr, operations manager at Bon Bon and the Garland Theater, serves with Bradley on the Garland district’s board of directors. Bradley was supportive even as some of Bon Bon’s neighbors worried about the bar’s opening in 2010, she said.

“She’s really great at looking at the big picture,” Carr said. “Her hope has always been that the Garland would be branded as an arts district, and she really understood that having a thriving nightlife would be a key element.”

Neighboring businesses have rallied around the arts district idea, Carr said. The art school fits, she said: “Anything that brings energy to the block is a complete asset.”