Upon moving into our location in Kendall Yards, there was a lot of talk among the Inlander staff about this miraculous painting that was hanging in the entrance of the new building. We’d never seen anything quite like it and soon realized it was a Ben Joyce piece. (You can see it in the video below.) I became stunned by this guy’s talent after doing a little research, and really wanted to talk to him. I met him at his studio, which is tucked away in a little unassuming warehouse in North Spokane.
When meeting Joyce, a Gonzaga grad, I quickly noticed a few things: He loves his art, he loves his family, and he loves Spokane. Here’s a look at some our discussion.
When did you decide this is what you wanted to do?
Going through college and thinking, “Oh, I need to become a business professional out in the world” and having the approach that being an artist is a hobby, it was really a little bit of a battle. I was thinking, “What am I going to do?” but then also, “Why am I ignoring this talent?” Having a wife, and thinking of a family, I thought there was never going to be security with the artwork. But it just got to the point where it became such a strong calling that I couldn’t turn it off, and so I decided to stop ignoring it and went after it.
How did you develop your style, which you’ve coined as “abstract topophilia?”
I was hitting a wall with traditional landscapes. I was unable to capture that real pride of place. So I thought, there’s got to be a way to create that pride of place in an actual fine art piece, and that’s when I came up with this idea of painting from an aerial perspective. It really allows the individual to populate it with their own connections and histories. I become, essentially, the viewer, and they’re telling me what the piece is about.
Your work centers on a love of place, so why is Spokane the place for you?
Right away the pace of the city was one that I enjoyed. Then having met my wife at Gonzaga (who is from Spokane), we always knew we wanted to live here. And you do kind of miss it, it’s just one of those towns. With the roots that she has and Gonzaga and, you know, it’s kind of everything you need in a city. We can live a comfortable life, rather than living in a rat race somewhere and trying to compete and trying to justify and prove yourself to other people. That’s not what my work is about. I’m not about trying to compete with other artists. It’s just a whole different life that I want to lead. I’ve always wanted a family and to make living off my art, so Spokane is a great place to do it.
Do you participate in First Fridays?
Yeah, the First Fridays are a great event. I’ll do one a year here in Spokane because a lot of the people here in Spokane have helped me get to where I am. Fortunately for me, big things are happening. I’d love to do 10 pieces a year and just give them all to the public. And now that I’m building more security for my family, I look to the people that have helped me get to this point. I think it’s important not to forget about that, and that’s why I’ll do these shows.
What was it like doing your commissioned piece for The Inlander?
Once they said they were in the process of getting this building, I was really excited. You know, it’s always flattering when people hold walls out for your work. They actually wanted a smaller piece for that space, but going in and seeing how dramatic the wall is in the entrance and knowing the business, I thought to myself, how can I not do a piece that’s going to make a statement? Then we just made it work.
Joyce prints his first name on each of his pieces with almost transparent subtlety. He said some people ask him if he writes it in crayon, but it appears to be both an artistic and humble choice. It’s the distinctive final touch on each of his pieces, which are consistently in a category of their own. To see more of Joyce's work, check out his website: benjoyceart.com.
The first time I saw The Strangers was a little under a year ago on the rooftop of the Saranac Building. It was an August night, the sun had gone down and I had made the mistake of rafting the Little Spokane River for roughly four hours beforehand, making me a sunburnt and tired mess by the time their set had started.
I was one of maybe six people sitting down when The Strangers played that night. Dancing around me were 30 people, all under the age of 21. They weren’t bumping, grinding or twerking like most kids their age. These folks felt the music, moving in ways that would confuse the still-sitting onlooker. Something that people would have seen the summer of ’69 during Santana’s set at Woodstock, surprisingly in our own neck of the woods.
There I sat, 16 years old, motionless in the middle of the most beautiful concert I have ever been to. The chaotic dancers around me seemed to have moved in slow motion. The music, reminiscent of ’60s rock, flowed around the downtown block in perfect clarity. For the first time in my many years living in Spokane, I loved my city.
That was the only time I ever sat down during a Strangers gig.
Since then, I learned the words to their sing-a-long tune “Learning and Nostalgia,” saw band members come and go and made my own crazy dance. I have trucked tens of pals to their concerts and forced them all to listen to a live CD in my car whenever we venture around the city.
I understand now why those kids reacted they way they did that August night. During that 30-minute set, The Strangers let them be anything they wanted to be. That half an hour set them free.
More than anything, this video is a thank you to Eric Kegley, Char Smith, John Haven and Isaac Grubb for making something beautiful for us kids. From playing at Volume to recording their first studio album to moving to Seattle, they are finally moving forward as a band. The Strangers are going to go to great places in the future and forever will I be thankful for how magnificently strange they made Spokane.
It’s been two weeks since the Blue Spark abruptly closed its doors, and it’s still got people shaking their heads over the state of downtown Spokane. And then yesterday Ciao Mambo announced it’s closing its doors — though the company has now confirmed it will reopen as another MacKenzie River Pizza location.
With those closings following the abrupt end to Catacombs and Scout earlier this summer, people are feeling cynical: “Why don’t you just say Spokane is closing?” It’s worth talking about why and asking ourselves what could make Spokane’s downtown a better place. Mourn however long you need to, complain however much you want.
But let’s also remember to appreciate what we’ve got and what we’re getting. Here are five new downtown places to be excited about, and this isn’t even close to comprehensive:
5. The Blind Buck
The newest spot on Division in the Main Avenue hub is a speakeasy-style joint planning on a grand opening in August. Spokane’s not lacking for a good cocktail, but why not another? In the owners’ updates it’s obvious they’re putting a lot of work and care into the place, and their enthusiasm is catchy.
4. Pho City
It’s about time we had genuine Vietnamese pho among the city’s downtown lunch options. The family-run restaurant has been open since the middle of June, so it’s about time to stop by if you haven’t already.
3. Vintage Angel
The latest stylish addition to the growing Carnegie Square and West End shopping area — just ignore the Otis Hotel dead zone — is next door to the Anthropologie-like Artemis, with a treasure trove of reworked vintage dresses and boots. The whole area is having a big sale this weekend if you've been waiting for an excuse to stop by.
2. Liberty Ciderworks
This state is pretty good at apples and booze, so it’s about time for cider to start catching on in Spokane. Liberty Ciderworks is getting started up on Washington Street just south of the train tracks, and we’re looking forward to tasting what they come up with. Dry, not sweet.
1. The Bartlett
It’s been more than six months since the community put together more than $20,000 to support The Bartlett, a new mid-size music venue. It’s become much more than an ambitious idea: There’s a building and a grand opening date and — just launched this week — a website to tell you all about it.
None of those places are dead-ringer replacements for what’s closed, of course. But don’t get too down, Spokane.
The Spokane Arts Fund finds a new artistic director, a veteran of the Seattle arts scene. (Inlander)
Two Spokane businessmen are charged with a scheme to scam "thousands of small business owners." (SR)
The convention center expansion breaks ground today. (KREM)
Spokane home prices are climbing again, just like the good ol' days. (KXLY)
President Obama tries to sooth frustrated leaders in his own party. (NYT)
The Smithsonian museum wants Trayvon Martin's hoodie. (WP)
Bashar Al-Assad is on Instagram, but there's no "war crime" filter available yet. (The Atlantic Wire)
Wikileaks leaker Bradley Manning was convicted of several counts of espionage yesterday, but not of "aiding the enemy. (The Guardian)
The campaign communications manager of sext-prone NY Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner had some choice words for an intern who dished details to the New York Daily News. One of those words was "slutbag." (TPM)
But Weiner doesn't believe it's right to let a few embarrassing sex scandals stop New York from electing a mayor with the potential to provide future embarrassing sex scandals. (USA Today)
After more than two years serving up drinks and Italian-style food in downtown Spokane, Ciao Mambo is closing.
“We would like to thank the Spokane community for its support,” a printed sign on the restaurant’s door says today. “Unfortunately, Mambos will be closing its doors for business as of Tuesday, July 30, 2013.”
The restaurant opened in 2011 in a space previously used by the doomed Washington Mutual Bank, at 818 W. Riverside. It’s been involved with community events like Pig Out in the Park and this year’s inaugural Spokane Restaurant Week.
The Montana-based mini-chain, owned by Glacier Restaurant Group, still has locations in Missoula, Billings and Whitefish. (The locations page of the company’s website used to list Spokane, but no longer does.)
Employees were notified over the weekend. It came as a surprise, since the restaurant was still actively hiring within the past month.
UPDATE: A new response on the Spokane Ciao Mambo Facebook page indicates the company is planning to reopen this fall as another MacKenzie River, which is also owned by Glacier Restaurant Group.
UPDATE | July 30: The location will reopen as MacKenzie River Pizza, Grill & Pub later this year. “Our experience has led us to believe that a MacKenzie River would better serve the Spokane area,” says Erica Coffman, director of marketing for GRG.
That will provide a better “quick-service” lunch options for the downtown work crowd, she says, and will also have a full bar. Staffing decisions haven’t been made yet. The goal is an opening around mid-October, and renovations will begin right away.
State and federal agencies today filed scam complaints against a Spokane Valley-based credit card processing company, alleging the company repeatedly lied to small businesses about contracts, fees and services.
Merchant Services Direct, which offers card processing services including fraud protections, has allegedly lied about service fees and manipulated contract agreements to jack up customer costs.
The Federal Trade Commission and the Washington state Attorney General's Office both filed separate complaints today about MSD's business practices.
“Scamming small business owners in Washington will not be tolerated,” state Attorney General Bob Ferguson says in a news release. “When businesses don’t play by the rules, the Attorney General’s Office will hold them accountable.”
The Federal Trade Commission alleges MSD deceived clients by cold calling businesses and posing as their current service providers, selling a new contract as a simple update. The commission's complaint alleges MSD then imposed illegal fees and charged businesses to cancel their services.
"Defendants' sales agents do not tell consumers about these additional miscellaneous fees in their sales presentations," the complaint states. "These miscellaneous fees also are not disclosed or are inadequately disclosed in the fine print pages of the contract that many consumers do not see before signing."
The Better Business Bureau reports Merchant Services Direct, now called Syphra Inc., made $7 million last year. The company operates in six states under several aliases. The BBB gives the company an "F" grade, listing at least 75 complaints in the past three years.
Both complaints name company managers Kyle L. Dove and Shane P. Hurley as the principals in the allegations. The company's website appears to have been shut down. An email requesting comment was not immediately returned.
The state and federal complaints seek an injunction to block MSD from continuing to operate and request refunds for improper fees charged.
The Spokane Arts Fund, the nonprofit organization that, among many other things, promotes and supports Spokane's artistic community, announced its new artistic director today.
h was selected by the group's board after an exhaustive search. Roach comes to the position from Seattle, where she served as the executive director of the Northwest chapter of the Recording Academy — which you probably know better as the Grammys. Before that, she was the managing director of The Vera Project, a volunteer-run arts and music venue in Seattle.
“This is an exciting time for art in Spokane, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to bring my arts leadership experience to this region. I've seen firsthand how arts can foster the creative cultures that bolster economies and build regional identity," said Roach in a press release this morning. "I'm honored to lead Spokane Arts Fund's efforts to build, network and support arts assets in our region, ultimately contributing to a bright future for Spokane.”
Karen Mobley, who stepped down as director this spring to take the position of program manager, says she knows the organization, which originated last year after the city dismantled its arts department, is in good hands.
"Shannon is somebody I’ve known for a long time," says Mobley. "She has a positive reputation in the region and I feel confident that she has the passion and the energy that’s required of that job."
Look through brochures for RVs these days and you'll see lots of glamour shots of counter space and big queen beds. But flip through those from the '60s, '70s and '80s and you'll see companies selling a lifestyle, one where women always make dinner and men still wear short shorts.
As I was researching for this week's cover story about the nostalgia that's driven the RV business — even in a tepid economy — I kept coming back to Winnebago's archive of old brochures. The company even created a custom coach for "a trip to Spokane and the Expo '74 world's fair."
Below are photos of models and PDFs of their brochures from the late '60s through the '80s.
A fire destroys the Colville Indian Tribe headquarters. (SR)
Pricey signal technology may cure what ails Division Street traffic. (SR)
The massive fire that destroyed an office building on July 5 may have come down to a faulty air conditioner. (KXLY)
The Coeur d'Alene School District isn't going to be relying on the controversial state-wide WiFi contract negotiated by Tom Luna. Instead, he plans to go with a company in Post Falls to manage its WiFi. (CDAP)
Members of Congress worry they might be personally affected by health care reform. (NYT)
The tribunal of WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning ends today. What Edward Snowden learned from Manning. (The Atlantic Wire)
A suspect has been arrested in the string of green-paint vandalism against Washington, D.C., monuments. (Washington Post)
Right wing voices, like Red State's Erick Erickson, have been making hay over this video of Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson posted by the anti-tax Club For Growth group.
Council President Ben Stuckart says interest in small, backyard farming operations and in increasing the amount of local food Spokane eats (just about 2 percent of food purchased in the region today was grown nearby) are driving the discussion.
Supporters of urban farming say current rules restrict people's ability to sell what they grow and limit the types of animals they're allowed to raise (as it stands: no goats). Stuckart says he hopes to craft new rules by the end of this year.
Urban Farming Open House • Tue, July 30 from 5:30-7:30 pm • Downtown library, rooms 1A and 1B • 906 W. Main Ave.