Published on September 4th, 2012 | by Kate Albert Ward


Spaceworks Tacoma

Laura Foster, Strawcloud/Parlour, 2012.

In 2010, the City of Tacoma, Shunpike, and the Chamber of Commerce launched the Spaceworks Tacoma program.

Detail of an installation in progress by Kenji Stoll.

Spaceworks Tacoma responds to the city’s over-abundance of vacant commercial spaces and the need for inexpensive real estate to house it’s ever-growing creative community through three different components: Artscapes, Creative Enterprise, and Artist Residencies. The goal of the program is to pair artists and entrepreneurs with property owners to creatively enliven unused buildings in a way that is beneficial to all.

Granted a rent-free space for a few months, artists and creative entrepreneurs can experiment with less risk, fulfill their ideas, and share their vision. Property owners get an energized space that attracts positive attention and shows off the building’s potential. Instead of encountering gaping desolation that blights our city, Tacomans can access new and exciting means for seeing, exploring, and experiencing creativity.

Spaceworks Artscapes fills empty windows through artist installations, the most prominent of which is installed in the Woolworth Building windows located on the corner of South 11th between Commerce and Broadway in Downtown Tacoma.

From organic forms emerging out of the walls, such as Kyle Dillehay’s Lines of the Earth and Holly Senn’s Composites, to impeccable design demonstrating technical mastery, such as A Crowd Adrift in the City by Amy Oates and Gabriel Brown’s Memoirs of a Garbologist, the Artscape installations have established a public discourse on a diverse number of topics such as environmentalism, consumerism, and cultural crosscurrents.

Janet Marcavage, Fabrication, 2012.

Though not all of the artists featured in the Artscapes are from Tacoma, the opportunity has played an important role in the city’s art scene by providing (along with the GTCF Foundation of Art Award exhibition) the best and most accessible “exhibition” of contemporary works in Tacoma.

I would love to see a gallery exhibition that showcases a wide variety of Tacoma artists in a purposeful manner, such as the Tacoma, Naturally exhibition that was briefly on view last spring in Ellensburg on the Central Washington Campus.* In the meantime, I am very thankful for the Spaceworks program’s ability to share Tacoma’s creative pulse.

Jennifer Renee Adams, Equus Cirrus, 2012.

In addition to Artscapes, Spaceworks has drawn significant attention to the other two aspects of the program: artist residencies and creative enterprises. Local creative souls have used space made available to them for dancing, painting, making music, vending unique and locally-crafted wares, repairing bicycles, and writing (Fab-5, Write@253, Live Paint, Fly, Chiffon, Toy Boat Theatre, The Barefoot Collective, just to name a few).

The physical space creates opportunity for engagement; the public are regularly invited into these spaces for performances, classes, and to interact with the artists/entrepreneurs on a personal level.

As more and more artists and creative entrepreneurs turn to the digital marketplace, the Spaceworks program’s physical presence makes possible chance encounters, whether it be seeing an artist installing his/her work in the Woolworth or wandering into a space where live conversations about “why” and “how” can take place.

These interactions establish an interconnected community through what TEDxCity 2.0 calls the “irreplaceable power of the local gathering.” In their article “Re-imagining the Commons” about a program similar to Spaceworks in Philadelphia, they emphasize the importance of these gathering spaces for collectively approaching difficult civic issues.

Just as staring down the flickering candles on a birthday cake invites introspection, Spaceworks’ two anniversaries have provided opportunities to reflect. The Spaceworks administrators and steering committee have learned that the strength of the program lies in the potential of helping artists and creative entrepreneurs transition from borrowing space to leasing it when, given the time, they can find firm ground to build financial success.

To make this work, the Spaceworks administrators serve as more than just matchmakers, working closely with applicants and property owners to arrive at the most successful outcome possible.

Spaceworks Committee member Katy Evans, expresses her passion and drive to shape the program into a stalwart support of Tacoma’s creative and economic base.

Every day I live in Tacoma, the importance of diverse, creative, and innovative small business communities is reinforced. As Spaceworks Tacoma continues to seek out and draw attention to the incredible ingenuity and talent in our community, we see block-by-block improvement – most notably in the Triangle neighborhood and along Martin Luther King Jr Way.

I love being a part of the Spaceworks Steering Committee because all of us believe in investing in the future of livable, engaged neighborhoods. I don’t care about the size of a business or project – I care about its ability to connect, thrive, and sustain local culture. I can’t wait to see what Tacoma’s next emerging culture-maker brings forward and our ability to support them with the most basic and potent of business needs – space – will only continue to positively impact the strength of our neighborhood fabric.

Three enterprises — Fab-5 and N. Dybevik Piano Co., and Poppy  Co. (with Live Paint soon to be a fourth) — have already signed leases with their Spaceworks property owner, demonstrating the Spaceworks program’s ability to serve as a “business incubator,” as the program has been so aptly dubbed by Kathleen Cooper in the News Tribune.

Interior of Write@253.

Including Live Paint, three of the four Spaceworks participants who have successfully transitioned to leaseholders started in the Marie Thorp Wilson Trust building located on the south 1300 block of MLK Way. Jeanette Sorensen, the steward of her family’s building, told me,

By leasing to Spaceworks, our building has become a warm, lively part of the Hilltop community. The city and tenants have improved each space to make them inviting to their clientele. By having the building occupied, we have had to worry less about vandalism and graffiti…I highly encourage prospective Spaceworks property owners to make the leap to a very positive experience.

The Spaceworks program is not short of quality applicants who want to start creative businesses, but the Spaceworks program currently has only three properties to offer. This is an unfortunate disproportion considering the number of vacant businesses in Tacoma. In addition to the benefits outlined above, participating Spaceworks property owners can take pride in investing in the well-being of Tacoma by playing a vital role in cultivating the future of arts and business here.

Let them eat cake
You don’t have to own commercial property to help support  Spaceworks Tacoma. On September 15th, Spaceworks Tacoma is hosting their first ever fundraising party: this event promises to be the easiest (and most fun) way to donate to the program.

A favorite of elementary school carnivals, the cakewalk is a contest where participants have the opportunity to win a cake by simply walking around in a circle to cheerful tune; No need to brush up on your trivia nor bump up your cardio to prepare, just hope that you are standing on the winning number when the music stops. For old-school Tacomans, this event may ring a bell: Spaceworks Tacoma is happy to revive the arts and cake fundraising tradition once practiced by one of Tacoma’s original grassroots arts organizations Tacoma Contemporary.

As if decadent and indulgent cakes donated by local bakers were not enough, the Spaceworks event will also feature works of original art from many of the fantastic artists the program supports. Tickets to compete for cakes will be $5; tickets to compete for artworks will be $20.

Cakewalk will celebrate all that Spaceworks has accomplished over the past two years, as well as help raise the necessary funds for them to continue their good work into 2013. The cakewalk will be hosted by JD Elquist and Travis Pranger, owners of Electric Branch Creative which is housed in one of the Spaceworks program’s newest locations.


Electric Branch Creative

Saturday, September 15, from 6pm-9pm
311 S. 7th Street (Electric Branch Creative)
With entertainment from Mr. Melanin, DJ Broam, and the Barefoot Collective

RSVP here

A few of the artists donating cake and/or art to Cakewalk include Jeremy Gregory, Chris Sharp, Elise Richman, Chandler O’Leary, Jessica Spring, Oliver Doriss, Julia Barbee, Lance Kagey, Kyle Dillehay, Janet Marcavage, Michiko Tanaka, Lisa Kinoshita, Diane Hansen, Rachel Hibbard, Laura Foster, Brian Hutcheson, Amy McBride, Sean Alexander, Gabriel Brown, Cheryl Rux, Susan Thompson, Michael Kaniecki, Kenji Stoll, Anette Lusher, Meghan Mitchell, Nate Dybevik, Goldfinch, The Warehouse, the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, write@253, and more.

Keep your eye on the Spaceworks blog to see what some of the artists are donating to Cakewalk, such as those that can be seen via the links above!

Some of the cakes will also come from: Dulce Cupcakes, Angel Cakes, Hello Cupcake, Corina Bakery, Celebrity Cake Studio, and Amocat Cafe.

Oh yeah, and Post Defiance! Want some input into what kind of cake I make for the fundraiser? Take this super short survey! Post Defiance Cakewalk Cake

c. flourless chocolate almond torte


a. vanilla cake with blackberry filling (last seen at the Post Defiance Anniversary Party)



b. coconut cake with raspberry filling


* Unfortunately, there is very little information on the internet about the exhibition Tacoma, Naturally. Displayed at Alley Cat Artists on the Central Washington University campus in Ellensburg Washington in April 2012, the exhibition featured Tacoma artists who work in mediums other than glass, the objective being to show that, though Tacoma is best known for glass, there are many other vibrant artists here. Tacoma, Naturally was curated by CWU alumni Matthew Cote and found cohesion in the impulse of Tacoma artists to be inspired by the natural world. The exhibition included works from: Kyle Dillehay, Alice Di Certo, Jimmy Gosselin, Lisa Kinoshita, Janet Marcavage, Rick Mahaffey, Amy Reeves, and Elise Richman.

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About the Author

A writer for Post Defiance, Kate has done freelance writing for the Museum of Glass, The South Sound User's Guide, and 19th-Century European Paintings at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Kate’s previous experience includes working as the Kress Foundation Interpretive Fellow at the Portland Art Museum, and as an Adjunct Assistant Professor for Portland State University. Kate currently works at Hilltop Artists, a youth development program that uses glass arts to connect young people from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds to better futures.

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