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Collaboration, costumes nab Civic Theatre’s Kearney Jordan a nomination for arts award

Kearney Jordan stands in the costume storage area at the Spokane Civic Theatre on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. She has been nominated for an arts award for her service to the theater,  as well as to many nonprofits whom she helps  find costumes for events and fundraisers. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Kearney Jordan stands in the costume storage area at the Spokane Civic Theatre on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. She has been nominated for an arts award for her service to the theater, as well as to many nonprofits whom she helps find costumes for events and fundraisers. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Kearney Jordan keeps up a running description of costumes as she glides through aisles packed with fashions from the 1500s through the present.

“This is the Victorian section,” Jordan said, pulling out a long, purple, velvet gown reminiscent of the clothing in “Downton Abbey.”

“Then we have colonial, medieval and Renaissance dresses,” she said, stopping to separate the costumes by era.

Jordan, manager of The Little Shop of Rentals at the Spokane Civic Theatre, is one of Spokane’s unsung heroes – in the background, quietly making a lot happen, said Ellen Picken, Spokane Arts’ interim executive director.

Picken said the Civic Theatre’s costume rental shop has seen tremendous growth, largely driven by Jordan’s collaboration with several local businesses and organizations.

“Jordan’s efforts to cultivate and establish relationships with various arts organizations and other community programs reflects her belief in that sense of community,” Picken said.

Jordan is one of the nearly 25 nominees for the 2016 Arts Heroes awards, honoring people who promote and support the arts in Spokane.

The four categories of awards include collaboration, imagination, inclusion and leadership, and winners will be announced Nov. 5 at the third-annual fundraiser and costume ball in downtown Spokane. A separate award will be given in honor of lifetime achievement called the “Karen Mobley Impact Award,” named after the Spokane artist, writer and former director of Spokane Arts.

Jordan, who was nominated in the collaboration category, is known for describing Spokane’s Civic Theatre as of the people and for the people of Spokane, Picken said.

“The Civic is my home, literally and figuratively,” Jordan said with a laugh last week while leading a tour of the theater. “And I do love what I do.”

As she quickly makes her way up three flights of stairs to show off the 6,000-piece costume collection, she said her job has an added bonus for her – she has lost weight climbing up and down the stairs many times a day carrying heavy costumes.

Jordan was raised in Spokane and began volunteering at the Civic over 20 years ago. She joined the staff in 2014. Besides the costume shop, she also is a producer for the Academy, the Civic Theatre’s education component. Classes are focused on theater skills, knowledge, theory and practice of acting, which usually culminates in a live performance.

Although Jordan has been at her current job for just two years, she has been around theater and the arts her whole life.

“I grew up in a theater family with actors and dancers and stage designers,” she said. “I learned all those things growing up. When I was at Central Valley High School, I interned in a costume shop. Lo and behold, all these years later, I’m in charge of costumes at the Civic Theatre.”

A single mother, Jordan has three children: Lucy, 8, Grayson, 12, and Millie, 13. “And they’ve all made their theater debut,” she said proudly.

Jordan said two full-time costume designers at the Civic can make just about any costume requested.

One of those, a Victorian steampunk costume, must have reminded her of “Oliver,” as she sang the lyrics, “Boy for sale. One boy for sale,” moving along to the next section.

“We have bins and bins and bins of accessories and hats and more hats,” she said, pointing to hats hanging from nails above nearly all of the costumes.

As she continued down a new aisle she called out more costume names. “I call this one fairy godmother or Mother Goose; here’s a cheerleader, and doctors, nurses, Russian shirts, Cookie Monster, Tigger, Winnie the Pooh … oh, and Professor Dumbledore from Harry Potter fame,” she said, making her way to the back of the space.

In May, Jordan traveled with 50 costumes, complete with accessories, to Yellowstone National Park for the Lake Yellowstone Hotel’s 125th anniversary celebration.

“Employees emailed their measurements, and then I got to go there and work with them,” Jordan said. “It was on the front pages of newspapers all across the country. It boosted my confidence a lot.”

Costumes are donated to the theater as well as made for the shop, although donations are not being accepted at the moment, Jordan said. Costumes were moved last summer from a previous location, and everything has not yet been transferred into the new space. When it is, Jordan said, she and volunteers plan to go through all the costumes and cull the inventory.

October is typically a busy time for the costume shop because the Little Shop of Rentals is open to the public. Jordan schedules an appointment for each potential renter, and costumes are let for one week at a time; most rent for $20 to $50.

“I find that Halloween costumes come and go in phases,” she said. “Last year we had four people who wanted to be Colonel Sanders, and this year nobody wants to be Colonel Sanders. We’ve had steampunk fairies, industrial Victorians and Marilyn Monroes. Every year, there’s at least one Marilyn Monroe.”

One of Jordan’s principal talents is collaborating with organizations, schools and businesses.

She has consulted and provided costumes for Terrain, the Agora Awards hosted by Greater Spokane Incorporated, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Spokane’s Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, among others.

Jordan said the theater rents costumes to high schools around the country, who find the theater on the internet.

“An all-girls high school in New York puts on the ‘Pirates of Penzance’ every year and we have another one that does ‘Oklahoma.’ We get inquiries from as far away as England. The Civic Theatre is an institution here, and local people know it’s the place to go for costumes,” she said.

The community member who nominated Jordan said Jordan’s job is an art form in itself, and she shines in that role.

“Jordan has a natural gift for it. And she loves to share that gift with others. While she is a businesswoman, she often collaborates with nonprofits just for the joy and honor to do so,” according to the Spokane Arts nomination.