Filling an artistic void

// Spaceworks Tacoma aims to reinvigorate downtown spaces with art

Frustrated with empty storefronts taking over much of downtown Tacoma's expanse, Amy McBride, arts administrator for the city of Tacoma, took up the challenge to integrate more art into these areas.

Spaceworks Tacoma aims to activate abandoned storefronts and vacant spaces by filling them with temporary art installations and performances (dubbed "Artscapes"), spaces for artists to create for months at a time, spaces for creative businesses to begin and also for "pop up" events.

"There was a certain time last summer where various people would send articles that basically said 'look what they're doing in London, Everett, etc.' I'm not the only one who had this idea. It was the gestalt in the air," McBride said.

Chelsea Levy from Tacoma/Pierce County Chamber of Commerce approached her and suggested putting something in effect. The next group to join the initiative was Shunpike, an arts management organization based in Seattle.

"After they joined, it became crystal clear how we could do it, providing liability insurance that retailers require," McBride stated.

Nine years ago McBride started the Woolworth's Windows art exhibiting program and she wanted to implement more temporary art installations in town.

"The timing seemed great," she said.

It definitely is. As spring is here and summer is around the corner, more people, both native Tacomans and visitors, will be out and about walking the neighborhood and seeing all that they can. More creative projects will sate a need that will not only benefit the businesses these exhibits take place in, but also the artists who will take advantage of these newfound spaces.

For artists it provides space for opportunity and provides exposure for different works, and also provides visibility for the city for pushing initiatives for a creative class, and shows it using its assets in a positive manner, McBride explained.

"We want to attract talent, people who are innovative themselves not just as artists, but as entrepreneurs and people who want to start new businesses can see that they can thrive."

She explained that the city provides assistance and small business support and that this program stems from philosophies in economic development.

"We call it 'economic gardening,' in which we're not always looking to the outside but taking care of what we have here and nurturing it," McBride stated.

Currently, the city of Tacoma has put out a call for artists to apply to take part in the Spaceworks and Artscapes programs, and according to Naomi Strom-Avila, cultural arts specialist for the city, all kinds of artists are being sought.

"For the Artscapes, we're seeking mainly visual art because there's installation involved. But for Spaceworks, it's open to people in all different disciplines," Strom-Avila said. "People hosting pop-up concerts, a fashion show, a graphic design studio, the list goes on and on. We're keeping it pretty wide open, and are having people come to us. What is it you want to do but haven't had the space to do?"

While both McBride and Strom-Avila encourage all artists to apply, both affirm that the program's emphases are on quality work.

"That's our first criteria, artistic quality, innovation of programming, etc.," Strom-Avila said. "If people have fantastic ideas for use of space we're interested, and our choices will be made on strength of proposal and how the project will benefit the community."

Though there are no residency restrictions on submitting proposals to Spaceworks to foster connections to the greater regional arts community, Tacoma artists are strongly encouraged to apply. If applying for artist residencies, creative enterprise or pop-up events, artists can apply online at Submissions for applications are rolling. The deadline for June is May 7.

An informational meeting about Spaceworks will be held from 5:30-7 p.m. April 28 at Suite 133, located at 703 Pacific Ave. To RSVP, e-mail For more information about the program and to apply, visit


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