Spokane Doesn’t Suck
Ginger Ewing Puts the Plug in Spokane’s Creative Brain Drain
Growing up, Ginger Ewing was presented with one option for success—if you wanted to be anyone, do anything, make something new or have some fun, there was only one way to pursue those goals: Get out of Spokane.
The directive never sat quite right with Ginger. She knew from the beginning that she was called to connect with the city’s beating heart, to get hands-on with the inner workings that made Spokane the place she loves. So, when she started her career in arts administration as a curator at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, she threw herself into ensuring every Inland Northwest kid would have the opportunity to see the region like she did, gaining perspective through the traditional craftsmanship of local Indigenous tribes and the modern artworks of world-famous creators.
But as Ginger followed her calling, she saw countless peers called to anywhere but Spokane. The real opportunities for recognition, growth, or simply to make a living in the arts were in Seattle or New York.
“There was this belief that you had to go to a bigger city, to the greener pastures, if you wanted to make it as an artist,” Ginger says. “That led to this brain drain of all our young and creative people, and out of who was left, only a certain few were being asked to the table.”
Now, as executive director of the arts organization Terrain, Ginger has assembled a proverbial village of artists and appreciators of art. By connecting creatives and spotlighting those she so often saw left out of the conversation, Ginger and Terrain have helped to grow an arts scene that’s uniquely Spokane.
Ginger and a few friends saw a massive gap between the bubbling pockets of underground art in Spokane, and an even bigger gap between those creators and the Spokanites who might support their work if only they knew what they were missing. Ginger and her co-founders envisioned Terrain, a one-night-only event with live music and vendors that would draw artists together to plant the seeds of something beautiful.
They borrowed an empty warehouse and begged artists to submit work for exhibition. On that fateful night thirteen years ago, Ginger realized about two hours into the show that there was no way Terrain could be contained to a single night.
The flagship event is still held one night a year, but where it once drew 1,500 people to see the work of thirty local artists that first night, over 13,000 spectators and 274 artists took part in the 2019 event. It blossomed into a full-blown arts nonprofit in 2013, and Ginger now oversees a permanent gallery space and performing arts center, a professional development and mentorship program called Creative Enterprise, and a storefront, From Here, featuring products made by local artisans. A collection of tees and sweatshirts emblazoned with the slogan “Spokane Doesn’t Suck,” created by artist D.O, is one of the most instantly recognizable designs available in the store.
“We’ve grown tremendously over the years. But really, the mission and the vision are the same—how can we best support artists? How do we use our creativity as a vehicle and a tool to build community to build the Spokane we want to see?” Ginger says.
That vision is what drew Jackie Caro, now Terrain’s operations director, to the organization back when she was working for the city of Spokane. There was some construction happening on Sprague Avenue, and Jackie wanted to make the hassle and noise seem a little more promising with the help of an art installation in one of the empty storefronts. She reached out to Ginger to see if Terrain could help.
Next thing she knew, Jackie was volunteering her own time to help Terrain in any way she could. She eventually left her urban planning career to work full-time on building the community Terrain was laying the groundwork for.
“Growing up here, you could see a very distinct shift from the inception of Terrain to the city that we are today,” Jackie says. “I left and came back, and I realized if I put a little bit of effort into the city that I love and that I come from, I can make a big difference.”
Jackie’s work with Terrain now entails a little bit of everything—she and Ginger are the only employees, after all—but a lot of her time is spent coordinating volunteers and planning logistics to ensure Spokane artists have the support they need to make visions reality.
There are countless art lovers and art makers constantly at the ready to do what’s needed to keep Terrain going, Jackie says, and she and Ginger couldn’t do what they do without the thriving community propping them up. It’s a sentiment of gratitude and community ownership reflected in a hashtag you’ll see on every Terrain promotion: #WeAllBuildThis.
Terrain was Ginger’s baby, Jackie says, and there have been so many people willing to help raise it. But what’s special about Ginger’s leadership is that she keeps her eye on the big picture. Without that overarching vision, Jackie thinks, Terrain may have succeeded in fundraising or promoting Spokane arts, but it would never have built the community machine that’ll keep it going for years to come.
“Everything that we do as an organization and everything she does as a person is really always thinking about who we are welcoming to the table. Who are we asking for opinions from?” Jackie says. “That one night of the first Terrain was the fire that Spokane needed to believe in itself, and Ginger has never stopped thinking about how to keep it burning.”
For Reinaldo Gil Zambrano, an art educator and printmaker, that fire was a signal that Spokane could be the place for him to thrive. Like so many Inland Northwest creatives, he’d planned to make his way to a metropolis after graduating from the University of Idaho.
When he attended one of Terrain’s annual flagship events, Reinaldo’s eyes were opened to the sheer scale of the community bubbling right under his nose. Since then, he’s sat on the jury for the annual show, participated in multiple Terrain gallery exhibitions, and collaborated with the group to launch Spokane Print Fest, a yearly celebration of printmaking arts.
Everything Reinaldo has done with Terrain has served to reactivate his passion for building community through art, he says, but it’s also made a distinct impact on his own livelihood. Because he’s been featured in Terrain shows and made connections with patrons through Terrain events, Reinaldo says he’s been able to fully establish himself as an artist and step into his own as a small business owner.
“It’s really hard to do things by yourself, to break into the art space, which can be pretty intimidating,” Reinaldo says. “So, it’s important to have someone who is proactive, and Ginger has big ideas that can enrich others that share the same passion, and then they can materialize together all these amazing ideas.”
For Ginger, it’s those individual impacts that strike closest to her heart. Everything she’s built, in the end, was to keep Spokane artists fed—both creatively and literally. It’s come full circle from the people who helped feed Terrain in the very beginning—the people who were willing to prove Spokane didn’t suck.
“We just had an underlying love, belief, this dogged determination,” Ginger says. “I’m just not going to let people tell me my city is not good enough. I’m going to try to do something about it. There was this disparaging narrative that we told ourselves, and that’s completely changed. That’s a really beautiful thing to witness and to be a small piece of.”
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