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Community-minded art scene alive and well in downtown Spokane

When walking on Howard Street between First and Second avenues, a pair of smiling narwhals are there to greet you.

Walking on Wall Street, also between First and Second avenues, dozens of small murals mark “The People’s Gallery,” before red, blue, pink, black and white stripes make a colorful statement, via a mural by Spokane Arts Program Manager Ellen Picken and Erin Mielcarek.

On Post Street, a quartet of black-and-white paintings by Justin Gibbens and Will Bow, including one of a “Pacific Merman,” a fish with human legs, decorate the underpass.

And the Steam Plant’s signature twin stacks tower fittingly over David Govedare’s “Steam Plant Comet Show” on Lincoln Street.

A colorful mural by a team of artists led by Melissa Cole brightens the other side of the street. Another Cole mural decorates the Monroe Street underpass.

“Melissa’s murals are so bright and colorful; encountering them feels like being transported,” Melissa Huggins, executive director of Spokane Arts, said in an email.

In Riverfront Park, Harold Balazs’ “The Lantern,” one of a handful of statues along the Centennial Trail and one of Huggins’ favorite pieces of downtown art, reaches toward the sky.

It’s almost impossible to miss the artwork downtown, but with so much to see, it’s also difficult to take it all in.

If you don’t look up, you might miss the re-creations of paintings by Rick Gendron on the side of Hotel Ruby.

If you don’t look down, you might miss the Govedare-designed music-themed bench near the Knitting Factory.

If you don’t look around while stopped at a red light, you might miss the signal boxes that have been wrapped with a design.

And some works, like Sherman Alexie’s poem “That Place Where Ghosts of Salmon Jump,” another of Huggins’ favorites, are in storage due to construction, awaiting the day they can be put back on display.

For some reason, certain pieces of downtown art aren’t regarded as such.

“If you’re hosting visitors who’ve never been to Spokane, you might say ‘Let’s go see the Red Wagon and the Garbage Goat and the Bloomsday Runners,’ as opposed to ‘Let’s go on a walking tour of downtown art,’ ” Huggins said. “They’re so iconic and uniquely Spokane that sometimes people can take them for granted.”

To help keep that from happening, Spokane Arts partners with various organizations, including the Downtown Spokane Partnership, the city of Spokane, Visit Spokane and the Spokane Public Facilities District, on projects around downtown.

“Projects that benefit the community and help make our city vibrant, walkable and welcoming,” Huggins said.

One project, for example, found Spokane Arts working with the Downtown Spokane Partnership on a series of art installations in the skywalks that pay tribute to Spokane staples like the Lilac Festival, Spokane Pride and the Get Lit! Festival.

Spokane Arts also is working with the city on projects to incorporate art into the gathering spaces created by ongoing construction to make them feel welcoming and cohesive.

“Art can truly be transformative for physical spaces,” Huggins said. “And it gives people a real sense of community pride.”

 

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