Although comparing the arts scene in Tacoma to that in Seattle may seem unfair to some, this was the topic on everyone’s minds during a panel discussion on Oct. 21 at Robert Daniel Gallery. Some of the city’s top arts enthusiasts – including Tacoma Weekly staff writer Dawn Quinn – came out to speak at the event, which was sponsored by Shunpike and Tacoma Arts Leadership Lab. Moderated by Erik Hanberg, executive director of City Club of Tacoma, the panel also included Broadway Center Executive Director David Fischer, letterpress artist Jessica Spring, Aaron Jacobs, owner of Reel Extras Casting and Elise Richman, artist and professor at University of Puget Sound.
The discussion opened with the question: “Is Tacoma’s art scene in the shadow of Seattle’s?” The answer: a resounding “Yes, but…”
Panelists agreed that, although the size and scale of Seattle means the resources to support the arts are greater in many ways, the talent of artists in Tacoma is very real. “This question doesn’t have only one answer,” Quinn stressed. “Seattle’s support of the arts does overshadow Tacoma, but not in terms of skill and talent. The real struggle for artists here is to find the ability to create and produce art while still being able to make a living.”
Richman pointed to several high-profile artists such as Phil Roach from Seattle, who made the choice to move to Tacoma due to the unique opportunities that exist here. “The visual artists in Tacoma don’t actually feel like they are in the shadow of Seattle at all,” she said. “Phil Roach moved to Tacoma and could afford a nice house with a huge studio that would have been difficult to find in Seattle.”
In the casting business, most auditions are held in Seattle but, according to Jacobs, the talent comes from everywhere in Puget Sound and beyond. “Honestly, a couple years ago the ‘206’ area code is what you needed in order for people to take you seriously,” Jacobs said. “Today, things are different because people realize that talent can come from anywhere.”
However, sourcing talent for theatrical productions in Tacoma is not always easy, and gaining the rights of certain plays is often nearly impossible for smaller theater companies outside Seattle. “Many groups are nervous to have their performers act in Tacoma one night and Seattle the next,” Fischer explained. “The pure economics of the situation is a very big challenge.”
By the conclusion of the discussion, panelists came to the agreement that Grit City’s arts community is in need of additional resources, and would benefit greatly from a nonprofit center serving the needs of local artists. Perhaps then, Tacoma artists will have the support they need to step out of the shadow into the spotlight they deserve.