- Kristen Black
- Spokane Arts Program Manager Austin Stiegemeier has developed the Spokane Throw community-powered art project.
Across Spokane, galleries participate in First Friday art show receptions a dozen times a year. Locals can hear live music any night of the week, and poetry open mics happen weekly. From fall to spring, you can see a different live theater performance on almost any weekend evening. Then there are the countless touring and one-time events throughout the year.
The opportunities to experience our region's bounty of arts and culture are incredibly abundant. Yet the familiar lamentations over a lack of support from the majority of the community still linger.
Create Spokane is hoping to change that perception.
The month-long initiative spearheaded by Spokane Arts' departing director Shannon Halberstadt — who has been at the helm of the nonprofit for a little more than a year but recently announced her return to Seattle — seeks to make the arts accessible to everyone.
"Our region is really rich with creativity, and I think a lot of times that goes unrecognized," Halberstadt says. "This is an opportunity for people who are creating to show off, and an invitation for the public to participate."
October is also National Arts and Humanities month, she points out. It made even more sense to plan the new, local initiative for that month since there already are a number of well-established arts events happening here in October — the Visual Arts Tour, an expanded two-day version of First Friday; Terrain; Spokane is Reading; and the beginning of new seasons for the Spokane Symphony, local theaters and other performance groups.
Create Arts month is modeled after similar programs in other metro areas close in size to Spokane, like Tacoma Arts Month in November, and Reno's Artown festival in July, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next year and boasts 400-plus free arts and cultural events.
The public participation aspect starts with Create Spokane's programming partners — other local arts groups — hosting their own special events throughout the month, including workshops, lectures, performances, exhibitions, classes and other events across a range of disciplines.
"For people who don't necessarily participate in the arts and don't do poetry readings or see gallery shows, it's a great opportunity to see something new and see what is going on," Halberstadt says.
Most of the events are free or low-cost to increase accessibility.
"There is a perceived 'ivory tower' of the arts, and we hope to bust down that perception and bring people in," she adds.
So far, some of the planned partner events include pottery demonstrations and public classes at the Liberty Building, and international film screenings at the Magic Lantern Theater organized by the Spokane International Film Festival.
Create Spokane has even inspired some groups to create new programs, Halberstadt says. One of those endeavors is Spokane Poet Laureate Thom Caraway's project "Verbatim," a collaborative literature and visual art event incorporating a displayable object and a short performance, set for Oct. 4.
Also launching in conjunction with Create Spokane's monthlong mission is Spokane Arts public expression project Spokane Throw, headed by the organization's program manager Austin Stiegemeier. Through Sept. 26, Spokane Arts is accepting submissions of 25-word letters to Spokane. These messages can be confessional odes or critiques of the city that start out with the phrase "Dear Spokane." Entries selected are then planned to be light-projected onto the sides of prominent downtown buildings at night.
Meanwhile, a similar project encouraging public participation in art — the new Mobile Murals Program — is also launching during the first week of Create Spokane's programming, on Oct. 4. Earlier this summer, Spokane Arts put out a request for mural proposals, which would then be installed as a fence around the undeveloped dirt lot at the corner of Division and Third Avenue downtown. Following their installation is a public walking tour of all of downtown's new public art, including the four recently completed railroad underpass murals.
Create Arts month culminates with a festive costume ball, which organizers felt was appropriate since the event falls a day before Halloween, and also to further inspire creative expression. The formal event at the Davenport Hotel also includes the first-annual Spokane Arts Awards. Honors in four categories are to be presented to individuals exemplifying leadership, inclusion, collaboration and imagination.
"For me, my biggest hope is that people get out and experience the arts," Halberstadt summarizes. "I think it would be a great success to have people not interested in the arts participating." ♦