The arts in Spokane suffered during the pandemic as galleries and venues shuttered, and a litany of events was canceled. Creators keenly felt the loss of connection to one another and the greater community.
Enter Morgan Walters and her fiancé Anthony Edwards. In March, the couple opened Make a Difference Co. Lab Studios, aka M.A.D. Co. Lab Studios, in a building on East Trent Avenue that formerly housed electric trolleys.
Walters credits arts organizer Denny Carman with the idea. “Denny and I did ‘Art on the Go’ (a drive-up art show) for two years, and I’d done artist vendor events at the Flour Mill before COVID shut those down,” Walters said. “Our artists were depressed and sad.”
Carman floated the idea of finding a commercial space for a collaborative studio. “Anthony found this place on Craigslist – the owner wanted to have an art collective here,” she said. “We looked at it in November 2020, and the next day we were here working on it.”
They signed a five-year lease and quickly discovered it would take a lot of work to transform the 6,000-square-foot space, but with their background in construction, the couple didn’t shy away from the labor.
“Initially, I was just supportive of her focusing on her art,” Edwards said. “But this just snowballed and got bigger and bigger.”
Now, the second-story space next to the railroad tracks features a coffee shop, ceramics studio, gallery, classrooms and space for artists to work.
Edwards shrugged. “I figured we could go all-in and risk everything for the art community or sit in our rockers in our 70s and regret that we didn’t try.”
The studio embraces all kinds of art, from books, sculptures and murals to canvas and soon music. “I’m in the process of building a recording studio,” Edwards said.
Of course, art is everywhere you look, including at your feet. Students from Garfield Elementary School painted a mural on a hallway floor, the couple christened “The Ego Trip.” Walters laughed. “We wanted to remind artists that once we were all just kids painting trees.”
Another floor mural is in progress in a gallery space. “After hours of installing tile throughout the lobby, we decided to let artists paint the floors,” Edwards said, grinning.
Though they’d worked hard to create the space, they were unsure how the community would respond, but at their March opening, people showed up in droves. “There was a line of people waiting to get in,” Edwards recalled.
Giving back to the community is integral to their vision. “The gallery takes a 20% commission – 15% of that goes to Jewell’s Helping Hands, the Black Dog Foundation and the Jonah Project,” Walters said.
M.A.D. Co. Lab Studio’s successful start has energized the couple. “The universe wants us to keep doing what we’re doing,” Edwards said. “My favorite thing is watching people’s expressions the first time they walk through the door.”
Offering the community a place to explore art is important to them, but even more, they want to embrace artists who may not have felt comfortable or welcomed elsewhere.
“There are lots of blue-collar artists in Spokane who don’t fit in the box,” Walters said. “This is a place for artists who don’t fit in the box.”
Cindy Hval can be reached at email@example.com.
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