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Making a difference: Art collective opens to creative members while offering outreach to schools, disabled and veterans

UPDATED: Mon., March 22, 2021

Garfield Elementary kindergartner Lincoln Vaneenoo paints on the floor of the new Spokane artists collective Make a Difference Co. Lab Studios, or M.A.D., at 3038 E. Trent Ave., on Thursday.  (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)
Garfield Elementary kindergartner Lincoln Vaneenoo paints on the floor of the new Spokane artists collective Make a Difference Co. Lab Studios, or M.A.D., at 3038 E. Trent Ave., on Thursday. (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)

A 5,000-square-foot studio opens this weekend for artists as collective members, but organizers also are setting up outreaches with schools, veterans and nonprofits.

Make a Difference Co. Lab Studios, known as M.A.D. Co., has contacted some public schools in Spokane to offer art instruction. Already, a few virtual art classes were held for third graders who remained at their schools.

The hope is eventually to offer on-site classes and activities to benefit children, disabled people and veterans, said Denny Carman, an organizer who has an office there as resource manager for Art Chowder magazine. This week, children from Garfield Elementary School painted the floor of the studio, located at 3038 E. Trent Ave.

“We are already working with schools, and this gives us a location to have classes and put it all together,” Carman said.

“M.A.D. Co is an art collective, but it’s different. At this location, there are a few studios, but it’s almost like a gym where artists pay a fee monthly to join. We have space for all the arts, and artists can come in to mingle with each other.

“There’s a vendor area and classrooms where we’ll be teaching disabled children, adults and veterans. We also have a full-sized pottery studio for use. It’s basically a big hub to teach.”

He said he’s supporting Morgan Walters, an artist and co-founder of the studio, in opening the cooperative. The fees for artists range from $65 a week for multiple workspaces in the studio, or $150 a month, to a full-access combo of up to $375 a month.

The group also has membership options for vendor-only use and ceramic pottery studio time.

Carman worked with Walters nearly a year ago to offer “Art on the Go,” a drive-up art show with installations all over Spokane that featured more than 50 artists.

“Morgan and her husband-to-be found this location,” Carman said. “Most artists if you ask, they want to rent a studio, but they don’t spend every day there. They’re working, plus they don’t have a lot of funds.

“Morgan figured this out to where you join a collective for a low fee, and it gives you access to the location and everything here to use, create, mingle with other artists, and you can pick once a week or a few days.”

Although the group could use art supplies donated at the site for its outreach, Carman said plans are to offer a professional art studio setting to schoolchildren, veterans and those with disabilities for artistic development and expression, along with a social atmosphere among peers.

“Unfortunately, in schools, art is sort of pushed aside,” he said. “They don’t have access to art as much as they used to, so we’ve been talking to the different schools.”

It’s also a challenge to get studio access for many groups, Carman added. His work with veterans stems from his connection with the Black Dog Foundation, working nationally to support and bring awareness about veterans with PTSD.

“I started talking to them about art, and I found out there are a lot of veterans out there who use art to heal and express what they’ve been through and what they’re going through. I started focusing on art for veterans, too. We will be doing that, too, at M.A.D. Co.”

On 9/11 this year, he plans to have a veterans’ art show at the studio to showcase their art. Although the group is still working on financial sources and perhaps forming a nonprofit arm, he said the work with some groups has started.

He doesn’t want veterans or groups supporting the disabled to have to pay for space. He said area artists have offered to volunteer their time for instruction. The group will take donations of supplies, including blank canvases, brushes, paints, cleaning supplies and easels, he said.

So far, he said one volunteer artist has taught virtual classes for Westview Elementary students, who followed the instructor shown on a big screen. Another virtual class is being held for students at the charter school Lumen High School in Spokane.

“Once restrictions are lifted, then we’ll be going to their schools, and the hope is to bring students here like if students want to do a pottery class,” Carman said. “I got a hold of Stevens Elementary and I went to talk to Shadle to bring art to the kids.”

“We can have classes here once we open. We can have up to 106 people in here safely because there’s enough distance.”

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