There’s this old saying we’ve been thinking a lot about lately. It’s one of those almost clichés that was first spoken by a great thinker that’s now on a ton of inspirational magnets, mugs and posters:
The important thing is to never stop questioning.
We’ve found it attributed to Einstein, but who knows, it could have been some copywriter’s aunt. Still, it says so many things, right? About always being curious. About being intellectually humble. About realizing that even if you’re Einstein, you’re never going to wake up thinking, I have all the answers.
In 2008, the two of us and three of our friends started Terrain as a way to to create a sense of place, pride and community so young, creative people wouldn’t feel such a pull to move someplace else.
We didn’t know if we had the answer, but we knew the question:what would it take to keep creative people from leaving Spokane? Our idea was to jury an art show that literally invited any emerging artist working in any medium to submit artwork, for a one night only event. We would then treat the exhibition like a huge community celebration. At the time, we intended Terrain to be a one time thing. What we quickly realized, though, is that we had tapped into something extraordinary: a thirst for community and a spirit that ran much deeper than we originally imagined. The event went well enough that, within a year or two, we started asking a ballsier question: what would it take to start attracting creative people to Spokane?
Eight years in, that flagship event draws more than 8,000 people in a single night every October. We have other events that also reach thousands of people. We’re opening a gallery and a performing arts space. And by the time you read this, our sister program, Window Dressing, will be helping 16 artists launch new creative businesses.
We’ve evolved a ton since that initial idea, and, it seems to be helping. However, as we get within squinting distance of our 10th anniversary, we feel like it might be time to start asking a different kind of question:
Are we doing this right? Are all the things we’re pouring ourselves into working in the way we think they are? Could we reach the same goals down a different path? Maybe an easier one?
We—local government, organizations, businesses—have our individual missions and our individual jobs to do. But ultimately, we are all working to help Spokane become the best version if itself, so could we be doing more together? Could we be stronger together?
A few weeks ago, Visit Spokane convened a series of meetings with people from all over the area to discuss rebranding Spokane to the world. That was a great step for outbound marketing, but what about our internal civic dynamics?
What if we reimagined our individual roles? Stop doing things per the status quo because it’s what we’ve always done. What if we thought one level higher? We feel like Spokane and its institutions are all in a similar place: shuffling off a second city mentality we’ve had for generations and beginning to dream bigger than we have in a long time.
An example: There are at least five entities—ranging from city government to Greenstone to Downtown Spokane Partnership to Terrain—working separately to activate various parts of downtown. Rather than siloing, what if we teamed up and pooled resources to activate the entire city?
What might happen if artists and arts organizations started working with local developers? What if economic development meant you were also collaborating with homeless advocates or at risk youth? What if event planners were always a part of city infrastructure conversations? What if we decide, together, the kind of city we want and then collectively move the needle forward?
There’s no denying what we’re thinking about is complex, and partnerships are difficult, but there’s a second part to that maybe Einstein quote that also has us thinking: Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
We’re beginning to believe not just that we can do the things other places can do, but that together, right now—with our size, our curiosity and our energy—we can do things other places wouldn’t dream of trying.
Maybe, then, the question we ought to be asking whenever we have a big, lofty, ambitious idea is:
Is there any better place to try than here? And then, who can help?