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

Terrain faces uncertain future as pandemic disrupts work to amplify area artists

Ginger Ewing never really intended to help start an arts nonprofit in Spokane.

But her love for the arts and a frustration with the idea that young and creative people needed to leave the city to find a connection with art propelled her to do it anyway.

Ewing, who is the co-founder and executive director of Terrain, a nonprofit that supports artists and advocates for the arts, said her joy for life stems from having the ability to create spaces where people who have felt voiceless could finally feel heard.

“I’ve known from a very early age that in order to fill my soul, to be happy, I needed to be feeling like I was giving back to my community in some way,” she said.

Ewing is leading a project in collaboration with two local digital design companies to amplify the voices of 16 artists of color, who will each paint a block letter of a Black Lives Matter mural.

Small businesses and organizations across the nation are being hit hard with the effects of pandemic closures, including Terrain. Ewing said the closures have hurt the organization’s mission to get money back into artists’ hands and has put into question whether the organization will be standing next year.

Terrain brings in money from its retail store, arts events and programs. Last year, the organization made over $500,000 from programs and events, with 93% of it going back to the artists themselves, she said. But so far, the nonprofit has only generated about 20% of the revenue they generally see during this time of year.

The organization has canceled most of its local events or reimagined them for online formats, as they work to abide by social distancing and health-conscious practices that will keep the Spokane community safe from COVID-19.

The summer art market known as Summer Bazaar was cancelled, Ewing said.

Terrain Table, a dinner for artists and others that was originally scheduled for July 16, was postponed. It’s still unclear whether large events will happen this fall, including the annual flagship event that draws up to 15,000 people, said Jackie Caro, operations director for Terrain.

“We’ve kind of had to pivot a few things and we’re not sure what the future holds,” Caro said.

The retail store, which is located on the second floor of River Park Square on Main Street, is only open half of its usual hours and the gallery is still closed to the public until at least August, Caro said.

In an effort to curb the recent drop in sales, every item available at the retail store was put up on a recently created online store.

Despite concerns and uncharted territory, there have been some silver linings, Ewing said.

With Spokane artists and the community in mind, gallery shows were brought to an online platform in April, Ewing said. Artists who were supposed to have their work featured in the gallery were given a choice to have it online or push their showing until large groups of people are allowed to gather again.

Terrain will continue with its Express Yourself showings, where an artist takes over the gallery for 24 hours, Ewing said. The idea behind this is to give artists a more physical control and allow the audience a peek inside the artist’s process, she added.

Each artist will leave their piece in the gallery and slowly a show will be built with those pieces, she said. The project will culminate in a three-hour digital show complete with music, performance art and visual art, she added.

“A big part of what art does and art provides is human connection, it’s empathy,” Ewing said. “It’s a lens to see the world in a different way.”

The experience of physically seeing the art or speaking with the artist about their work is irreplaceable, and not everything will translate to a digital format, Ewing said. Just like when someone is reading a book on a Kindle, they’re not able to hold the book, feel it and smell it – some things just get lost, she said.

“Not to say that there aren’t powerful experiences that can be had digitally, but there is certainly a large portion of what is experienced in the creative community that is missing right now,” Ewing said. “There’s just really no replacing those face-to-face interactions.”

Although the shift to digital shows allows the artists and their work to be seen, it hasn’t really proved to be an effective way to bring in money, which affects the artists as well, she said.

“It’s our job to highlight and showcase artists and art, but we also need to raise money,” Ewing said. “We’re still figuring it out. We don’t have it figured out.”

A lot of things remain uncertain and it’s not clear whether Terrain will be able to hold events later on in the year if restrictions continue, and without the revenue there’s an estimated loss of about $150,000, she said.

“Without us, it would be a drab place,” Caro said. “It doesn’t mean that artists won’t still be able to do what they do and that they won’t provide the things that they do for our community, but I think we help amplify that voice.”

The financial impact on the organization trickles down to the artists as well and the employees who rely on their income, Caro added.

Ewing said she has been kept up at night by worries about whether Terrain will be able to bear the economic effects the pandemic closures caused them.

Businesses were eligible for PPP grants and loans during the early stages of business closures, but as nonessential businesses are allowed to reopen with limitations under Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, Ewing said she’s worried that help won’t be there.

“Providing places and spaces that make people proud of the city that they live in is really what has, for me, on a very spiritual level made me super proud of what Terrain has become,” she said.