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Arts + Community = Culture

Doing the math with glass artist and Fulcrum Gallery owner Oliver Doriss

Oliver Doriss: Keeping a light on in Hilltop. Photo by Kristin Kendle

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Oliver Doriss is the last light on at the block of 13th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way on Hilltop. During his three years running the Fulcrum Gallery there, he's watched other storefronts on the block shut down and projects in the area stall out. But no one stops Doriss. This is largely why the Tacoma Arts Commission recently selected Doriss for the AMOCAT Arts Award for 2010 Community Outreach by an Artist.

"The ways I outreach to my community are a byproduct of what I do. Glass art is a kind of community thing, especially in this area," Doriss says. "There is no separation between
arts and community; they are the same thing. Arts plus community equals culture."

If you haven't heard of Doriss, he is a major player in the local glass scene. His gallery is one of the coolest in town, featuring modern and contemporary glass art set right smack in the middle of Hilltop - providing what can only be described as a damn interesting contrast and a definite boost to a neighborhood that needs some love. Doriss has been a glassworker for 19 years, and is the mastermind behind those pleasantly creepy Baby Head Cups. Originally from New England, he has traveled far and wide honing his creativity. His projects include working with the Museum of Glass Hot Shop staff, and working as an instructor at the M-Space Glass Blowing Facility in Tacoma.

After relocating to Tacoma, Doriss was drawn to the Hilltop area because of the building he was able to purchase during the financing boom of 2006 and 2007. Even Doriss acknowledges, "That location is pretty odd for what I'm up to." With his new large and expensive space, he needed to fill the retail space and did not have a renter.

"I decided to use the display space myself. The Fulcrum Gallery works in conjunction with my fine arts career as a contemporary artist and gives me a secondary platform to try out more social concepts of fine art culture and community-based projects," he says. "In my 19 years as an object maker I have grown bored. Does the world really need another pretty vase? Fulcrum is my new art project; Tacoma is my canvas."

And even though Doriss did not open the gallery specifically to intertwine with the community, he says, "(The gallery is) there and it has its effects. What I've seen in the past three years of being there is that the whole area is dead. The biggest benefit I'm having to that community is just being the last light on. I'm not selling booze, I'm not selling religion - it's real art, fine art, and it's not some old impressionistic painting for a dentist's office. It's a lot of contemporary, edgy stuff that no one's willing to do."

For those who may turn their noses up at the Hilltop neighborhood, or even at Tacoma in general (yeah, you know who you are), visiting the Fulcrum Gallery may give you a new perspective.

"No one lives in Tacoma by accident," says Dorriss. "You don't have to live here. Everyone you meet, they're here for a reason. Tacoma gives back. It's rewarding to live here. You feel like there's something going on."

You can see Oliver Doriss's work at Fulcrum Gallery, but he is also at Vetri and the Glasshouse in Seattle. Fulcrum Gallery exhibits a number of artists, but focuses largely on local artists.

Fulcrum Gallery

1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma

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