A black car stopped short on the sidewalk in front of the Montvale Hotel in downtown Spokane last Friday night. A woman jumped out and spread herself flat against the paper covering one of the enormous easels set up for Spokane Art School’s “Art on the Street” exhibition.
“Draw me!” she begged. A friend grabbed a marker and outlined her head, outstretched arms and upper body.
“We’ve never had somebody do a tracing like that,” said Susan Bradley, board president of the nonprofit Spokane Art School and creator of its new Art on the Street events. “Hilarious!”
That spontaneous burst of creativity and engagement from downtown visitors is just one among the hundreds of arts encounters that Bradley has helped stoke on the streets of Spokane during the past two months. Two or three times per week for most of the summer, the Spokane Art School has hired local artists to hold Art on the Street drawing events, free to anyone brave enough to make their mark.
The next Art on the Street events at the Montvale are Friday with artist Bernadette Vielbig and Sept. 9 with artist Austin Stiegemeier.
Local artists Ric Gendron, Karen Mobley, Tom Quinn, Tiffany Patterson, Jery Haworth and Deanna Camp have already taken their turns standing at various locations on the streets of Spokane to coax passers-by of all ages to pick a color from the mounds of pastels and markers and add to the huge easels beckoning with blank paper.
Mobley said kids are the easiest to engage. “A lot of older people don’t have confidence to just dive in and draw something,” said Mobley, as she assisted two small children drawing a castle and Pokémon. “A couple of women told me they’ll come back after they get some drinks at Scratch first. ”
Bradley said she was inspired to create Art on the Street in Spokane after a recent visit to Michigan State University. While walking on campus, she and her husband, Scott, came across gigantic, 40-foot long easels set up in front of the school’s art museum with dozens of students lined up, animated and engaged with the canvas on both sides.
“They had these big garbage pails full of rolled up paper so you could just keep putting the new paper on top, and people were just all stopping by and just doing their thing,” Susan Bradley said. “We could see this would be really fun if we could do that here in Spokane.”
Last spring, Scott Bradley built wooden easels sturdy and large enough for several people to gather around and draw on at the same time.
The first events at the school in the Garland District this summer were an instant success, immediately followed by more Art on the Street happenings sponsored by Riverfront Park.
Within the first two weeks, more than 500 people encountered Art on the Street in those two locations alone, Susan Bradley said.
Montvale owner Jerry Dicker then hired the school to host the weekly public drawing events in front of his hotel to engage guests and out-of-towners. His construction firm even built their own easels with wheels so they could be brought out and stored in the hotel with ease.
Bradley says Art on the Street is similar to recent Spokane Arts Fund projects that use public art as a tool to enhance neighborhoods and engage the public.
“This is the kind of activity that shows how Spokane values creativity and the way it makes people think new thoughts,” Bradley said. “At (Riverfront) Park, my husband said he kept hearing people talk about how cool Spokane was.”
“Finding Art on the Street reminds people that the art school is here for them, tearing down the barriers to making art,” Bradley said.
Kelsey Gibson and Daniel Lee, two 20-something zipline tour guides from Spokane, noticed the easels on their way to have drinks at the Gilded Unicorn. Gibson paused and picked up purple and pink charcoals to create a sunset above an 8-year-old’s emerging castle drawing.
“It’s nice to see people doing art and being happy instead of all the construction,” Gibson said.
“I like that it’s multi-generational,” Lee said. “It’s just all people coming home from work, going out for the evening, even just someone slowing their car, just taking a quick breath to look at it.”
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