At the Root of Activism in Spokane

It's always amusing/irritating to hear people bash the Spokane cultural scene. Sure it's less diverse and less dense than Seattle. It lacks the dynamic art support of Portland or Tacoma. And in general the area is definitely more conservative than similar cities its size. Yet Spokane, from my perspective, is doing a lot of things right and continues to evolve not from the top down, but from the ground up, one person at a time.

From my perspective--in somewhat rural, decidedly more conservative and less arts-friendly northern Idaho--Spokane offers glimmers of hope in what one local artist recently described to me as an "art recession." Even though Lorinda Knight closed, Saranac Arts Project is still open and looking to support contemporary art and artists. A few other galleries have popped up here and there, like Gallery of Thum. Even though the little boutique-type spaces don't provide a fit for my art interests or my kind of installation-oriented artwork, they are a necessary and vital part of the overall spectrum of art venues in any thriving arts community. And larger, more venerable institutions like the MAC are holding on, finding ways to dig in even as the waves from the western part of the state crash harder upon them.

Then there's the grassroots element. Arts events like Terrain and websites like RiVerSpeAK are gaining momentum. Still evolving, but significant. Mostly from the 20, 30 and 40-somethings, with plenty of peripheral support from the web of organizations and activists who criss-cross Spokane in ways that I can only imagine from the outside, ways that do not exist here in North Idaho.

And folks are taking notice. Inlander mentioned some of the folks and events shaping the final few years of the most recently passed decade in their Decade in Review. KYRS' "Ready Made Radio" has been profiling some of the artists involved.

As a radio show developer/professor/artist, Bernadette Vielbig was the one who kept reminding me to check out RiVerSpeAK. Bernadette is passionate about art, an encyclopedia of knowledge and easily moving through discussions of the academic world, the street scene, arts in the inland northwest and what's going on outside our little northwest bubble.

From their website:


To nourish and sustain Spokane-area participation in the arts by providing a community forum for new and established local talent to SHARE THEIR WORK, COLLABORATE, FOSTER DIALOGUE, CONNECT TO OPPORTUNITIES, and BUILD COMMUNITY.


We strive to reach out to developing young talent in an effort to encourage their work and connect them to opportunities for growth in the community.
We seek to collaborate with local artists, organizations, and venues to organize local arts activities, events, and publications.
We envision the diverse artistic groups and individuals in the Spokane-area coming together in ways unexpected and unprecedented in order to enrich and strengthen our local community.

I signed up, read through the site with enthusiasm and am looking forward to seeing what they/we can do. Of course I'm an advocate for art so understand me when I say that even though all this is supporting the arts, that's not the most exciting thing. The most exciting thing for me is the energy and the activism of people, one at a time or collected together, face-to-face or via virtual technology. As a teacher, this is the most I can ever hope for: to motivate my students to want to DO something positive and constructive in any way they can. That's a good way to start the new year.