BY ANN McCREARY
Vacant storefronts, often a sign of tough economic times, will be transformed into lively spaces for art through a new program being launched by Methow Arts.
Called “ARTscapes,” the program makes empty commercial buildings a showcase for art – and in the process brings energy to former dead space.
“A creative response to economic hard times,” is Methow Arts’ description of the project.
Amanda Jackson, Methow Arts director, said ARTscapes brings together artists, real estate agents and property owners. “It’s a really neat combination of economic players and art,” Jackson said.
Property owners donate their vacant properties and ARTscapes participants transform them into dynamic spaces with artistic ventures suited to the site, Jackson said.
Three types of projects are proposed, Jackson said. Window installations provide a place for artists to exhibit their work. Artist residency space is a form of open studio for artists, who create work in the space while the public watches and in some cases comes in to meet the artist.
A third approach supports creative enterprises, using vacant space for “pop-up” events or businesses like temporary art galleries, stores or educational opportunities, Jackson said. All the approaches emphasize engagement between the artists and the public, to attract people to newly created art spaces.
Methow Arts is basing its ARTscapes initiative on similar programs in urban areas across the country, including a successful model called SPACEworks in Tacoma, Jackson said. “They’ve received national attention,” she said.
Bringing vitality to empty commercial spaces benefits the communities by transforming urban blight into art. In some areas it has been credited with reducing crime because previously vacant buildings are occupied and attract visitors into the evening, Jackson said. The program helps real estate agents by making properties more attractive and saleable, Jackson said.
Participating artists benefit from having free, publicly visible space to create, exhibit or sell their art.
Cities and towns throughout Okanogan County are invited to join in ARTscapes, Jackson said. The first project will be launched in the Main Street Building in downtown Omak in conjunction with NCW Business Loan Fund, owner of the building. Jackson said the space will be used for an artist residency, creating an open studio space in the vacant building.
Jackson recently met with real estate agents in the Methow Valley, and said she expects to initiate projects here in the near future.
Artists involved in ARTscapes programs will have access to a space for three to six months, depending on the space availability and the success of their project. The artists must be willing to vacate the space within 30 days if the property is sold or rented.
The artists must also agree to hold an opening reception for the public and host additional hours that are open to the public. They must also commit to occupying the space regularly to create work, and collaborate with ARTscapes to market and promote events and activities in the space.
Methow Arts will designate a panel of arts professional artists, representatives of neighborhood groups and commercial property owners to choose participating artists from a roster of approved artists, Jackson said.
Artists will be asked to submit proposals for the space they want to occupy. Selection will be based on a number of criteria, including the artist’s ability and desire to interact with the public and engage with people on the street. Proposals will also be judged on innovation, capacity to be successful, and the benefit of the artist’s project for the public.