Back to Arts

Art at Work

Celebrating a decade of creativity in Tacoma

Amy Reeves demonstrates how it’s done at the Tacoma Metal Arts Center during last year’s Art at Work studio tours. Photo courtesy Tacoma Art Commission

Recommend Article
Total Recommendations (0)
Clip Article Email Article Print Article Share Article

Art at Work: Tacoma Arts Month kicks off its 10th year this month. This ever-growing, ever-morphing event strives to highlight Tacoma's vast art scene - not just for the artists, but to get everyone involved.

Art at Work - an annual celebration of all things artistic in Tacoma - takes place each November, with related events scheduled throughout the month. The Tacoma Arts Commission heads up the effort, gathering all the artsy happenings into one snazzy brochure - almost a magazine in size. Events range from theater, to spoken word, to workshops, to art exhibits, and even to unexpected events such as hip-hop dance classes and free zoo days.

The annual brochure and many of the events within are free. The requirements to be included are simple: the event must be arts related, must be in November and must be in Tacoma.

"It's really trying to show that artists are just part of our community," says Amy McBride, Tacoma Arts administrator. "Art isn't untouchable."

"And that the arts are not just the symphony or a museum - there's a huge variety of things going on," adds Naomi Strom-Avila, Cultural Arts specialist and McBride's right-hand arts warrior.

McBride started with the City of Tacoma as Public Arts coordinator in 1999, at the time working in a department called the "Culture and Tourism Division," and charged with revitalizing Tacoma's art and culture. Back then the city had a much different attitude toward public art, says McBride. She recalls how public funding for the arts was a hot-button issue in Tacoma when she arrived, due in large part to a high-profile debate over public art at the Tacoma Dome.

"When I came here, the arts in Tacoma were contentious," McBride says. "I remember thinking: what causes that kind of strife - the sense of elitism in the arts, too few crumbs for people to fight over? (Art at Work) was the opportunity to cast the net and have the come one, come all kind of thing."

From its first year in November 2002, Art at Work has always been designed to create an art community with fewer barriers and allow different entry points into the local arts scene for all walks of life. During a time when public art was not always well-received, McBride set out to create critical mass and show that the arts were alive and well in this little port city.

Over the years, many facets of the program have come and gone. "The first years were just like throwing spaghetti at the wall, finding what would work and what would not," recalls McBride.

One constant of Art at Work month has been the studio tours, and opportunity for the local citizenry to visit the studios of artists throughout our city and see work being doing firsthand. These studio tours, a yearly highlight, are always free to the public. It's also free for participating artists to be listed in the brochure.

"The idea is to allow the public the chance to see inside the working studio of an artist, meet artists, see the tools and processes, and demystify the creative process," says Strom-Avila.

"I remember when I first participated in the studio tours it was mostly artists coming to see other artists," says Jessica Spring, a letterpress artist who has been part of the tour since 2002. "That has expanded exponentially and now I have people coming from Seattle to visit."

Not everything has stuck. Over the years some features of Art at Work month can be perhaps best described as one-hit wonders, like Buy An Artist A Coffee Day. Sadly, Buy An Artist A Coffee Day lasted only two years before falling to the wayside. Turns out Tacomans aren't lining up to buy artists coffee.

In 2006, Strom-Avila was hired on and an Art at Work renaissance began - starting with redesigns of the brochure, the Arts Symposium and the Art Slam. The opening party was also revamped, an event which had previously appeared and quickly died out in the first year.

"We started with a lot of design changes in the brochure," says Strom-Avila, "including a partnership with PLU and their design students. We work with a couple students each year to design the packaging."

With a new designer each year, the annual Art at Work brochure always has a fresh and unique look. Additionally, this system gives design students quite a bragging point on their resumes.

The Arts Symposium, this year Nov. 19-20 at the University of Puget Sound, is a weekend program geared toward local artists. It focuses on the practical side of art and involves panels, presenters and discussion sessions.

This year, Art Slam - part of Art at Work month from 2006-2010 - is out. McBride and Strom-Avila describe it as an event that, while loved, had become a closed circuit over the years. McBride and Strom-Avila say Art Slam is taking a break this year, or there's a chance it may not return at all.

Instead, 2011 Art at Work month will feature a tour of the newly unveiled art installations along the Prairie Line Trail, part of the old Northern Pacific Railroad line in parts of downtown. The city is turning Prairie Line into an interpretive trail, and garnering attention for it with public art.

Studio tours are also taking on a new dimension for the 10th anniversary of Art at Work month. This year each studio on the tour will feature some sort of hands-on activity. These activities will range from a chance to work with letterpress with Jessica Spring, to working with discarded library books with Holly A. Senn, to experimenting with sumi with Fumiko Kimura and Lois Yoshida - as well as much more.

For its 10-year anniversary, Art at Work will have a few special touches. The opening party will include a bit of extra fanfare to celebrate a decade of successful growth in the public arts. Expect special entertainment, cakes from Celebrity Cake Studio and plenty of food to be on tap.

Over the last decade Art at Work has grown and changed - each year including more artists on the studios tour and more events all around. In the first year, there were just 14 studios to tour, and merely a handful of events. This year, there are 57 artists and studios on the tour and 250 events on the calendar.

"It's not that all these people are new to town; they just see what's happening and want to join in," says Strom-Avila.

"It's kind of a barometer of the change. We can't make the causal relationship that because of Art at Work, these things are happening, but it's certainly in step with the growth within the art community in Tacoma," adds McBride. "It's a snapshot of out arts community."

The Art at Work Month brochure is available throughout Tacoma at all major museums and performance venues.

The information is also online at

This year's key events:

  • Museum of Glass, Art at Work Opening Party and AMOCAT Art Awards, Thursday, Nov. 3, 6-8:30 p.m. 1801 Dock St., Tacoma, 253.396.1768
  • Studio Tours, Nov. 5-6, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,
  • Prairie Line Trail Tour from Tollefson Plaza, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2 p.m.,
  • Arts Symposium at UPS, Nov. 19-20, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.,
Read next close


Cold hands, warm heart

comments powered by Disqus

Site Search