From established institutions to emerging artists, Spokane’s art scene was on the rise in 2019. The feeling is of a city full of creative people clamoring for creative things.
1. The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture
The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture gave longtime museum supporters reason to celebrate in 2019. After years of turmoil and firings at the top, the MAC’s new leadership continued to right the ship with a mix of traveling shows and local exhibitions.
Executive director Wes Jessup spent his third year at the helm striving to combine history and art, work with contemporary artists in the region and pull from the museum’s permanent collection. The results have been a string of exhibitions in 2019 that have been entertaining and educational. MAC visitors have had the chance to see iconic photos taken by the famed Group f/64 photographers, handblown glass by Dale Chihuly and other Pacific Northwest masters and beloved paintings by illustrator Norman Rockwell.
The 100-year-old institution also highlighted local artists and tribal cultures. For example, multimedia artist Wendy Franklund Miller was featured in a retrospective this year, and contemporary Spokane artist Ricco DiStefano’s paintings are on display now along with a continuing exhibition of the art of indigenous cultures of the Columbia River Plateau tribes. The current textile show of quilts includes handwoven items from the museum’s permanent American Indian collection.
2. Spokane’s first Queer Art Walk
Members of the community collaborated to launch Spokane’s first designated First Friday Queer Art Walk in June. Local art advocate and Seattle transplant Andrew Whitver, local artists Tiffany Patterson and Jewels and Danna Dietrich, and members of the City Council, Spokane Arts, the Downtown Spokane Library and the Downtown Spokane Partnership joined forces to create the new art walk.
The self-guided, free Queer Arts Walk launched on June’s First Friday with nine venues participating. On opening night, AS2, Coeur d’Alene’s sister gallery in Spokane that Whitver manages, hosted dancers and drag queens, along with showing art on the walls by queer artists. Plans are already in motion for next year’s national pride month.
3. Spokane Print Fest
The art of printmaking received a huge boost in 2019. Spokane-based artist Reinaldo Gil Zambrano, along with arts nonprofit Terrain, hosted the city’s first-ever Spokane Print Fest in April. The free event included live demonstrations of a wide array of printmaking techniques by students and instructors from Eastern Washington University, Spokane Falls Community College, Gonzaga University, the University of Idaho, Washington State University, as well as Coeur d’Alene’s Emerge Gallery.
Terrain Gallery hosted a corresponding exhibition titled “Tangible Gestures” showcasing the works of 35 local and national printmakers. The exhibition highlighted printmaking styles including relief, intaglio, silkscreen and lithography.
The Venezulan-born Zambrano, an adjunct art instructor at EWU, also runs his own studio, RGZ Prints. Earlier this year, he teamed up with the artists of Millwood Print Works – Thom Caraway, Bethany Taylor and Derek Landers – and local comic artist Derrick Freeland, to launch the opening of a new, bigger venture called Spokane Print & Publishing Center downtown.
4. West Central Artists’ Studio Tour
In another feel-good “first,” a clutch of creative neighbors held their first-ever West Central Artists’ Studio Tour. A painter, a potter, a printmaker and a poet were among the West Central resident artists who opened up their homes or home studios to give visitors free, behind-the-scenes glimpses into their inspiring places and creative processes.
5. The library as art incubator
The Spokane Public Library continued its renaissance in 2019. In addition to displaying local art at all 11 Spokane County Library District libraries, the branches offered a menu of creative outlets, resources and instruction.
The free library services include use of a 3D printer, musical instrument borrowing and instruction, checkouts of snowshoes, sewing machines, Washington State Parks Discover Passes, laser tag sets and more from the Library of Things. Those wanting to expand their digital art skills could borrow editing software, video and audio equipment and green screens.
The library’s innovative, late-night style talk show, “Lilac City Live!,” showcased local talent in a refreshing format. While the Spokane School district fired librarians at local schools this year to save money, it was some comfort to know the city and county systems are expanding.
6. Art installed at A Place of Truths
The installation of new public art this last fall at the Place of Truths plaza in downtown Spokane was a victory for local historians and environmentalists. The metal figures of Native fisher people and metal animal statues were created by Spokane Tribe member Jeff Ferguson and Colville Tribe member Smoker Marchand – with assistance from local artist Rick Davis – to tell the story of the river’s importance to every aspect of Native culture and history.
The plaza was named A Place of Truths to emphasize the point that most locals don’t know about the history of Spokane’s indigenous people. Nor do they realize the damage white settlers caused to local Native communities.
Beneath the plaza and its art is a 2.2 million-gallon tank that prevents harmful wastewater, like storm and snow runoff, from draining into the river before it can be treated.
7. Dodson’s closed
After 131 years of family ownership, Dodson’s Jewelers on Riverside Avenue closed its business in February. The shuttering of Spokane’s oldest retail store was a blow to downtown. It also meant one fewer fine art gallery showing local and regional artists.
Dodson’s last owners, Penn Fix and wife Debra Schultz, had made exhibiting art a priority for the store. Dodson grew its dedicated art space over the years. To augment the 2,000 square feet of walls in the main gallery, Fix and Schultz added 1,500 more square feet for art when they opened the mezzanine level, tearing down walls and converting a hallway.
Dodson’s represented 15 artists and 250 paintings at any one time. Its closing was a loss for the arts community.
8. Murals on the rise
Mural culture in Spokane has been active for decades, and 2019 was an especially good year to spot big art popping up in public places. The City of Spokane and Spokane Arts continued their commitment this year to revitalizing and reimaging murals all over town.
Shelby Allison and Susan Webber brightened up downtown with a 160-foot mural on the underpass at Stevens Street just south of First Avenue last May. Last summer, volunteers helped local artist Tiffany Patterson and visiting artist Mick Burson create a colorful scene on the side of a building in the Emerson-Garfield neighborhood. In July, the Garland Business District held an Art in Action event empowering emerging regional artists to paint the walls in the district’s Art Alley.
Mural advocates believe that eye-catching art painted near downtown gateways serve as a placemaking measure and as a way to activate underused areas, which see a large volume of pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
9. Terrain’s BrrrZAAR redux
Terrain’s winter BrrrZAAR returned this month for its second year, making it cool to shop at the mall again. On a recent Saturday, more than 70 vendors set up an outdoor-like market within the heated halls of River Park Square mall. Juried artists beckoned shoppers with booths stuffed with local and handmade wares.
In 11 hours, vendors sold more than $125,000 of art and handcrafted items. And because Terrain does not take a commission on those sales, that meant the money went directly into the pockets of the local creatives involved.
10. Continuing SAGA
The Spokane Arts Grants Awards continued to ignite emerging artists and fuel local creatives in 2019. Over the course of three funding rounds throughout the year, the SAGA program awarded more than $100,000 to support local artists, organizations, and culture and heritage groups.
2019 winners include Community-Minded Television’s DaShawn Bedford, who will use SAGA funds to produce a documentary highlighting local basketball legend Bobby Jack Sumler. Native filmmakers Misty and Hope Shipman-Ellingburg will create a short film exploring the topic of missing and murdered indigenous women. Another winner is Yes Is a Feeling, a new Spokane art gallery led by co-founder Roin Morigeau, who established the venue to showcase queer, inter-generational artists. Scabland Books will use SAGA funding to publish a graphic novel, “Baby Speaks Salish.”
To fund the SAGA program, in 2016 the City of Spokane approved the allocation of one-third of the city’s admissions tax to Spokane Arts, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the city as the region’s hub for arts and culture. The SAGA panel judges proposals on the strength of their artistic merit, solid management planning and impact on the Spokane region. Artists are encouraged to apply for next year’s SAGA grants at www.spokanearts.org.
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