It’s getting harder and harder for the naysayers and curmudgeons to decry Spokane as a lackluster destination for arts and culture. In fact, in recent years, it seems that our city’s art scene has come into its own, developing a distinct and innovative new identity.
From Terrain, the one-night art and music festival celebrating up-and-coming local artists and performers, to The Bartlett, a beautiful and exciting music venue attracting regional and national acts, we’ve established community organizations and even businesses built entirely around creativity. There’s Spark Central, a newly-reformed literary and creative hub for West Central and the city. The early-summer Volume Music Festival has expanded to new heights, and Elkfest and Artfest continue to produce top-notch events, year after year. Murals and other public art displays are popping up all over the city, from railroad underpasses to Browne’s Addition streets, and traffic signal boxes are (finally!) being covered in creative, colorful wrappings sourced from local designers and artists. Our graphic design community has established itself through many years of hard work and iteration.
And that’s not to mention the areas where the Spokane community continues to push the envelope through collaboration and partnerships. Window Dressing, our local push to revitalize and beautify empty storefronts, is expanding to sponsor creative businesses and popup retail, which will further enhance livability and vibrancy downtown. And Uncharted, the one-night collaborative event between Terrain and the Spokane Symphony, operates at a national bleeding edge, bringing together the classical and the contemporary and spanning generational gaps and differences as it graces the stage.
But all this is not to say we should rest on our laurels. We have more work to do. Thanks to Washington State’s 1% for the Arts law, the Riverfront Park renovation, for example, includes one of the largest investments in public art in the history of Spokane. A number of projects in the University District and East Sprague, such as the South University District Pedestrian Bridge, will include a public art component. And that’s not to mention the traffic signal boxes that still sit undecorated, the underpasses without murals, and—critically—the children and families without access to a guitar, a paintbrush, a camera, or a computer. We’ve crafted a fiercely independent, exciting arts and culture scene all our own, but moving forward, we need to do more to foster it.
Because these public murals, these festivals, these organizations, these music venues, aren’t going to fill themselves. Art isn’t art without creators and patrons.
It’s time our city’s identity become inextricably linked with its arts and culture scene. We already know that it’s improved our quality of life. So let’s go all in! To become Art City, U.S.A., we’ll need to grow arts participation and empower more kids to create art.
And more importantly, we’ll need to move beyond our constant state of denial and embrace the creative, exciting city we’ve become.
Anthony Gill is a Spokane native and recent graduate of Santa Clara University. He is the founder of Spokane Rising, an urbanist blog focused on ways to make our city a better place to live.