Downtown Tacoma is surrounded by painted murals on historic buildings and 2D and 3D artwork displayed in storefronts. Ever wonder who is responsible for the artistic downtown? It’s Spaceworks Tacoma, a joint initiative of the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chambers of Commerce that transforms empty spaces into art.
Spaceworks Tacoma was launched in 2010 in response to the plethora of vacant spaces in Tacoma. The organization turns empty buildings and spaces into shops, site-specific installations, short-term projects, or pop-up events. Spaceworks provides training and technical assistance for these endeavors, creating a thriving business and creative community.
Spaceworks has placed over 90 large-scale art installations in downtown Tacoma, including dancing, acting, film, music, painting, drawing, and writing. Most of their art is displayed on the corner of 11th and Broadway, the Woolworth Building windows, and the close-by Tollbooth Gallery.
For those of you who are art majors, you should consider getting involved in one of Spaceworks’ projects, where your work can be displayed to the community. There are two project options: Artscapes or Creative Enterprise.
Artscapes puts 2D, 3D, mural, or multi-media art installations in storefront windows, outdoor wall spaces, and an outdoor video gallery in downtown Tacoma. Creative Enterprise provides a low-cost building that artists, entrepreneurs, organizations, and property owners can rent for six months or less. This space can be used as a shop, a gallery, or an art studio.
There are many past successes for local artists and business owners, thanks to Spaceworks. For example, local art supply store, Tinkertopia on 1914 Pacific Ave., was established in 2012 through Spaceworks and bought from UWT. A dream to sell cheap and out of the ordinary art supplies became a reality.
Local artist Jeremy Gregory thanks Spaceworks for giving him the chance to establish himself as a Pacific Northwest artist. In 2013, he painted a mural entitled “A to B” around the corner of South 11th St., consisting of black silhouette aliens all over a smog-colored background. The intention of this piece is to represent aliens floating over organic shapes that mimic toxic emissions and traffic.
Gregory praises Spaceworks for giving him work. “I think it’s a really great program. I think it’s just the most accessible and it totally helps people who can’t afford it to start it or see what it’s like to have a studio in a store front, you know.”
Now, the downtown is filled with local art installations that will be on display until March 17th. Although there are a number of art pieces to recognize, the most recognized works are the large scale murals and the 2D graphic installations.
Multidisciplinary artist Angela Larsen painted a mural on 953 Market St. called “We all Have Our Things.” She painted this entirely by herself with her mom as an assistant. This colorful mural has a series of human figures without features on their faces. Larsen chose blank faces in order for people to find themselves inside the images instead of interpreting one human’s facial features. Larsen says, “I am truly interested in the human experience; this mural really derives from the simple idea that we are all people, and that really deep humanness of emotional experiences is our greatest connection.”
David Long’s mural “ILLEGAL” is displayed on 953 Market St. as well, but on the 11th St. side. The mural consists of advertising style text that exposes information about raising awareness for local and national justice issues. Long asks the community, “How can a human be illegal?”
Artists Jeffrey Curtis utilizes the Tollbooth on 11th and Broadway for his 2D piece called “Sidewalk Dance Films.” This piece consists of short dance films produced by choreographers and film-makers all over the world. These 2D graphics are glued down with wheat paste in order to mimic concert posters on a tollbooth and are replayed 24/7. This piece shows a diverse range of choreography and visual design.
What’s next for Spaceworks? The organization is currently working on a project called “1120 Creative House,” where they plan on using two-thirds of an entire building on Pacific Ave. in order to create a center for artists and designers. So far, they have filled up two floors and eleven studios. This project will help increase the local art scene that values individuality, exploration, and experimentation.
Artist Angela Larsen concludes, “There is so much empty space in this city, and visual art has a way of bringing new life into things that could be considered old and tired.”
While some may argue that the art and business market is mainly recognized in the digital world, Spaceworks shows that the physical presence of art and community gathering still has value.