I had an English teacher who once said, “Good writing is like a woman’s skirt…it must be long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to keep things exciting.” Her excellent metaphor was only hindered by the fact that I was a middle school student, unprepared to process an image of my 68 year old instructor in a short skirt. It must have made an impact, however, as it is one of the few things I actually remember from the class, and you’ll be happy to know that I’m applying the principal in this very article.
I want to inform you about a project that I’ve been working on for the past year(s) called Commonspace Arts. In doing so, I’m going to make a modification to Mrs. Horlacher’s writing advice. I will offer both long and short versions, as opposed to a single, tedious, knee-length version. The short version promises only the essentials (for people who don’t care about the back-story, my personal journey/struggles, or the social and economic impact of the arts in urban contexts). The long version promises only to be longer (with a bit of the aforementioned nonessentials).
The ‘Short-Skirt’ Story of Commonspace Arts
Commonspace Arts is (or will be soon) an organization that provides shared workspace to those who do creative work. The spaces will share these common benefits for its members:
office supplies (fax, printer, paper, etc.)
Along with these tangible benefits, sharing the workspace will provide members with creative synergy, community, and other opportunities.
The first space will be in the center of downtown Spokane on S. Howard St. It is currently under construction and will be ready Spring 2013. For questions and connections, here is the contact info:
The ‘Long-Skirt’ Story of Commonspace Arts
About two years ago, I felt stuck. I was working for a church as a music and arts director. While the work was enjoyable and had its value, it was also ghetto-ized and homogeneous. It became obvious to me that my understanding of arts and culture was terribly limited, and I felt like the small town kid in those movies that desperately wanted to see the rest of the world (I tried to think of an actual movie, but I could only think of Footloose and Sweet Home Alabama…so, I’m either Kevin Bacon or Reese Witherspoon, take your pick). I decided to do what anyone who wants to become more culturally fluent does….I Google searched it. Of course, reading about art doesn’t make anyone an expert or lover of art, but it lead me to two things that significantly shaped my posture toward art in general and my city’s culture specifically. First, were the writings and art of Makoto Fujimura. His writings describe an understanding of what art “does” and an artist’s role in culture that is very clarifying. I won’t rehash it…just go here and read. Secondly, I traveled to St. Louis for a conference on the formative nature of art. The basic idea was that art, music, and physical space all offer certain aesthetics that form and shape us into certain types of people.
Upon returning from St. Louis, and after reading some other books about the social and economic impact of art, the “creative class”, “creative economy”, and all that other stuff that smarty-pants people write to explain away the beauty and mysteriousness of art, I had two questions. Who are the artists being shaped and formed in Spokane, WA, and what are they doing? I started reaching out. I joined a band. I started talking to people (a big step for an introverted, kinda awkward guy like me). The band was great. We played and wrote music together, we performed a bunch of local shows, and I met many kind, interesting people. We also recorded an album (and it’s quite good, IMNSHO) which you can listen to and buy here. During this time, I was contacted by a guy (who I’ll keep anonymous) that wanted to show me his art studio. It seemed a little odd, but he hinted that I could perhaps use the space. It was in a historic building in downtown Spokane, so I figured it would be prudent to have a look. We met in the black and white, marble lobby of the Symons Building on Howard St. and took the elevator to the top floor. We then took the stairs up another flight that led us to a large, heavy wooden door. It opened to a rather small room (about 600 square feet) with wood paneled walls and ceiling. It smelled like your grandparent’s lake cabin…smoked in, radiated heat, dead birds, musty. The old linoleum floor was covered in abstractionist paint splatterings from wall to wall. The natural light from the four windows spilled in and exposed the thickness of dust in the air. I was excited. At the back of the room there was another door which led to a smaller darker space…dirtier and smellier than the main room. He was trying to convert this small walk-in-closet-type space into a dark room for photography, but it was full of junk, pigeon carcasses, and old furniture. Strangely, I was even more excited. Then, back in the main room, we approached another door that required us to step on a cinder block and up to the threshold. We were now on the roof of the building. I took a 360 degree turn and surveyed downtown Spokane. The Symons building is only 5 floors, but the view from the roof is pretty fantastic.
We agreed that I would start using the space to do basically whatever I wanted to do, and this man that I had met just 15 minutes earlier gave me a key. I gathered a small group of friends (artists & musicians) and we started meeting regularly in the space to hang out, make music, and dream about what we could do up there on top of the Symons Building. We developed an idea for a shared workspace for creative professionals. The basic premise came from a lot of the literature I had been reading over the last couple years – that if we provide an urban space for artists with all the resources they would need to do their work to the highest potential, then more artists would consider making Spokane a more permanent place of residence….and if more artists decided to reside in Spokane, then this would perhaps cultivate a more diverse, beautiful, vibrant urban community…both socially and economically. We named this idea for Spokane, Commonspace Arts. I contacted my friend and designer Karli Ingersoll to develop the logo. The project resonated with her as she is a very active advocate for the arts in Spokane (Karli and her husband are currently raising money to open a live music venue in downtown Spokane called The Bartlett. Please check it out here and support them!).
Spokane is already a naturally beautiful place, and there is a deep well for any artist to draw from. The goal of Commonspace Arts is to come alongside the natural resources of our city and help provide new social capital and relational resources not just to artists, but to all of our neighbors in Spokane. Over the next 3-4 months, we will be launching our website with more information specific to membership, working to build relationships in the downtown Spokane community, and planning some small fundraising events. Please get connected and and stay tuned for ways support this project!