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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane’s Anne-Claire Mitchell lives her art

When she returned to Spokane four years ago, Anne-Claire Mitchell saw a need for more infrastructure for young artists. (Ira Gardner)
When she returned to Spokane four years ago, Anne-Claire Mitchell saw a need for more infrastructure for young artists. (Ira Gardner)
By Audrey Overstreet For The Spokesman-Review

Some might say that artist Anne-Claire Mitchell, 30, is a walking commercial for Spokane’s burgeoning creative community.

After all, she is the star of a recently released Downtown Spokane Partnership video called “The Pitch.” It starts with these lines:

We open on a woman. She’s young, beautiful, fiercely independent, except when it comes to her dog, Hogan. Her name is Anne-Claire and she runs a gallery where she works with artists from all over the world …

The three-minute video features many other local artists and business owners, but Mitchell is shown the most. We see her daily life – rolling around on the grass at Riverfront Park with her dog, playing indie records and doing yoga in her loft-like apartment downtown and attending a show at The Bartlett.

The most visually striking scenes are footage of Mitchell helping curate a digital art exhibit in the gallery she opened two years ago in the historic Richmond Building as a founder of the Richmond Art Collective. The nine members of RAC share the gallery space with Spokane Laboratory, the digital arts residency nonprofit run by Alan Chatham.

The whole building is a shared live/work situation between the artists of RAC and Laboratory, with living spaces for eight artists on the top floor, collaborative work studios on the second floor, and a gallery for exhibitions on the bottom floor.

Although she never pictured having a major role in the DSP video, Mitchell said that she was glad to have participated. “Overall, I was really happy to be shown as part of the rejuvenation efforts alongside others I respect in the area,” she said.

Mitchell’s efforts to support artists by providing creative downtown live/work spaces continue to gain notice. Last month her organization won a $10,000 Spokane Arts Grants Award, the largest grant given so far in the program’s first four rounds of funding.

According to a news release about the award, Spokane Arts was impressed by Mitchell’s “passion for creating community and sustaining the collective … RAC was formed with the intention of offering living and work spaces, artist resources and creative community support, but has grown and is ready to magnify its successes and broaden its impact.”

Laboratory founder Chatham said, “With how much (the collective) has done so far with next to nothing, and still being in a formative stage, I think this money can really go a long way in taking them to a new level.”

Mitchell said to reach that next level, the collective will use the money for safety and aesthetic upgrades to the building’s infrastructure, marketing efforts for artists and hiring an experienced staffer to sustain the collective into the future through donor outreach and fundraising.

“Growth means building larger audiences for the artists we serve, delighting and inspiring more people with a broader range of interests, cultivating more art appreciators, and partnering with local organizations with missions different from ours to show that art can be infused into every aspect of our lives,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s rise to local arts leader is even more impressive given that she moved back to Spokane just four years ago. The Lewis and Clark High School graduate had moved away to travel and pursue her education, eventually earning a master’s degree in environmental science.

“One of the first things I noticed when I moved back to Spokane was that there was very little creative infrastructure for young people,” Mitchell said. “Terrain had been going on for a few years, but at the time it was a one-day event type thing.

“There was no creative space for people to post up, experiment with their process, or to enjoy that new, more kind of experiential interaction that millennials seem to be creating. Studios were non-existent in this town, and certainly no one had a live/work space where they could have their living space attached to their creative space.”

In 2013, Mitchell put together her idea to seek long-term downtown live/work spaces for emerging artists as part of a new collective. At the same time, Chatham was formulating his idea for an interactive digital arts program offering short-term residencies for visiting or local artists. Their friend, real estate developer Dan Spalding, was interested in supporting what he saw as a gap in resources for local visual arts. He offered Mitchell and Chatham the raw spaces of the 100-year-old Richmond Hotel building that he owned downtown. He allowed Mitchell to move right in, rent-free, to manage the building. She then opened the Richmond gallery almost two years ago.

“I suspect (Spalding) saw a stubborn, energetic young person who might wind up fighting for Spokane’s creative scene and wanted to incentivize me to stick around,” Mitchell said.

“Anne-Claire brings a lot of different of corners of creativity together in a kind of hybrid way, whether it’s photography with digital with painting, and sometimes music and poetry, and mashing it all up,” Spalding said. “It’s pretty awesome she can live in all those worlds and make it work.

“The only real requirement to the residency programs is that they show their work and be part of the group shows and the exhibits that we plan for the community.”

The next show at the Richmond Gallery will be “Organisynth,” an interactive evening of sci-fi electronic music. The free, all-ages show will be Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“Organisynth’s” creators are Richmond member Alex Mann and Laboratory artist Thomas Ruble, two artists from Spokane who have created devices that are networked and synchronized to allow users to essentially play music without making any mistakes. Mann and Ruble hope to encourage audience members on Thursday to become musicians for the evening, manipulating their digital “instruments” in ways that can only make joyful, harmonious sounds along with the other users.

“I’ve always loved making toys that people can play with,” Ruble said. “The idea with this installation piece is that it’s extremely interactive where dozens of people can all be touching things, pushing button, turning knobs and making music with new friends.”

Mitchell points to the “Organisynth” show as a perfect example of RAC’s philosophy on their social media page: “Life is weird. Making stuff is fun.”

“Residencies are a great way to afford artists without a lot of resources, or just any people with wacky ideas, the opportunity to experiment and create,” Mitchell said.

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