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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Public made personal: Spokane couples choose unique wedding venues to connect to community

Rajah Bose and Ellen Picken held their large wedding and reception at the downtown Spokane Public Library on Sept. 15, 2019. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Marriage ceremonies often take place in sacred spaces, but increasingly this need not be a church, temple or mosque. For newlyweds Ellen Picken and Rajah Bose, the Spokane Public Library was the perfect representation of their values as a couple: community, education and the passion that brought them together– books.

“We were looking for a sacred space, something that’s really valued and needed to keep the community intact, and that was the library space,” Picken said. “I think that represented us in being involved with our community more than any other space in Spokane.”

With the increasing demand for unconventional wedding spaces, the Smithsonian Institution announced in March it would open its doors for nuptials. Other unique spots couples in Spokane are using for their special day include the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane Parks venues, the Fox Theater and more.

Picken and Bose’s Sept. 15 wedding was a trial run for the library, and Jason Johnson, downtown community engagement manager, said the library will not be able to host another wedding until renovations are completed .

“That space that they used is called the Community Lens,” Johnson said, noting the stage was built in October 2017 for hosting the World Poetry Slam. “The whole idea was a way to showcase Spokane and the people that are doing great things in town.”

Picken admits photos from their wedding aren’t necessarily going to end up on anyone’s wedding Pinterest board, but for the couple, this wasn’t the point.

“It’s a life, it’s messy, it’s involved, it’s open and accepting,” Picken said. “The space, and what they do there, more defines our marriage rather than just the way it looks from the outside. I think it kind of is a political choice in a way, but it’s a community choice and we never meant for it to become political.”

When Bose and Picken initially considered the library, the controversies about homelessness and drug use had not yet surfaced. But for the couple, the fact that a library is a space for the entire community was the point, and made them steadfast in their decision to hold their ceremony there.

“It definitely reinforced it as we were going through it,” Bose said. “ … The library suddenly became a contentious zone for politics. It’s a battleground suddenly over folks that use it, and now it’s up for debate who those people are and should they be there. Who belongs in a library became a conversation while we were getting this thing together.”

For Madison and Karl MK-Bharucha, holding their wedding at the Fox Theater was also about connecting to their community, the theater community. Karl plays several instruments, and though they have day jobs, Madison’s dad is an actor, and her mother is a director.

“We have a really great community of people that just always have each other’s back and just adds to the family,” Madison said. “They had rehearsals a lot growing up, but it also meant we got to be around a lot of loving people all the time.”

Preparing for a Spokane wedding means acquiring a marriage license. Marriage licenses can be purchased for $62 dollars from Vicky Dalton, the Spokane County auditor. This put her in the unique position of selling a license to herself.

“My now-husband and I have been together since 1980 – yeah, however long that makes it – and we just recently got married in January of 2018,” Dalton, who’s been in her position for 21 years, said. “I always used to quip that I only sell ’em, I don’t use ’em.”

Dalton said only her administrative assistant had any idea of what was happening. Dalton’s husband came in, and they walked across the hall from her office into her other office.

“I’m standing there at the counter, and my staffer is used to me coming in and chit-chatting with him, and so he expects the chit-chat, and he looks up and he sees my husband there,” Dalton said. “He was like, ‘Huh?’ He kinda starts looking around, and he was looking for hidden cameras because he thought this was a joke.”

Dalton said in 2018 she issued 2,840 marriage licenses. As of the end of July, the 2019 count was 1,598, but August is the busiest month. Though a courthouse is typically stereotyped as a no-frills wedding, Dalton said because of the beauty of the building, more and more couples are choosing to include bells and whistles with their courthouse unions.

“The big professional photographer cameras, the ones with the lens that are two feet long, yes, we have seen those,” Dalton said.

Kyle Stevenson said he and his wife, Josie Stevenson, live in western Washington, but it was important for them to get married in Spokane because they met at Gonzaga University. They wanted to marry somewhere that felt significant to them as a couple, and they both remembered fondly many walks they took in Riverfront Park. Because of this, they contacted the Parks and Recreation Department to see what was available. Of all the options, “snxw meneɂ” (sin-HOO-men-huh) island fit the couple best for their ceremony.

“It was both remote, but still you’re surrounded by the river and the pavilion is right there,” Stevenson said. “It was just this nice quiet place while still being kind of part of that larger park whole.”

No one has married at the Pavilion yet, but Fianna Dickson, Spokane Parks and Recreation communication manager, said there have been inquiries and it’s only a matter of time. She said the department is looking to improve the way they market and promote their various venues, including Manito Park.

Not unlike Parks department options, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture is a seasonal choice. The outdoor amphitheater is the only part of the museum that can accommodate a larger crowd, and so most of the weddings held there are only during the warmer months. David Brum, Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture programs and events manager, said the museum had stopped hosting weddings about five years ago, but relaunched the option a year and a half ago.

“The primary reason we started them again was to have another way to engage the community,” Brum said. “Over the years, I’ve had a number of phone calls from brides-to-be. They’ve been here as museum members, and thought we’d be a great place to hold their wedding.”

Most of the weddings hosted at the museum are secular, Brum said, though sometimes the couple chooses to have a religious ceremony elsewhere and host the reception at the museum.

A popular venue for a religious ceremony – providing either the bride or groom is Catholic – is St. Aloysius Catholic Church on Gonzaga University’s campus.

Kathryn Yates, St. Aloysius marriage pastoral associate, said Gonzaga’s sacraments – including marriage – are under the church’s auspices. Through St. Aloysius, couples can also get married at the small chapel in College Hall, provided they have some association with Gonzaga.

“We’re kind of right in the heart of campus, but a separate entity,” Yates said of St. Aloysius.