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Thrown into the Ring 

What happens when writers and artists who don’t know each other work together?

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It’s less than a week from the opening of a brand-new show at Spokane City Hall’s Chase Gallery, and Karen Mobley admits she doesn’t know what all of the art will look like.

She’s seen some pieces. She’s seen sketches of others. But for a few of the pieces in the upcoming “Hotel Spokane” show, all she has are abstract descriptions of the art.

She reads one description aloud: “‘... a blend of poetry about intimate human relationship and abstract art in an installation,’” she pauses and smiles, looking up from the paper she’s reading from.

“What the f--- does that mean?!” And she starts laughing hysterically.

But Mobley, executive director of the Spokane Arts fund and the show’s organizer, admits that this show — an exhibition that pairs up unlikely artistic bedfellows just to see what happens — isn’t about the final product.

“I think this was more about the project than it was about the outcome,” she says. “Sometimes people find this as sort of weird — but I kind of think that a lot of times our job isn’t necessarily to know what the finished project is, but to set up situations where people have a chance to be generative.”

In this show, the second of its type that she has organized in conjunction with Eastern Washington University’s Get Lit! Festival, Mobley paired up local visual artists with local writers to collaborate on one piece. There were no directions. No rules. Just an understanding that they would collaborate.

“Over the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, ‘Well, how do you get people talking to each other? How do you get people working together?’” Mobley says.

The teams were initially paired eight months ago, and after brainstorming sessions, all came together with Mobley to discuss their directions.

Mobley says that, sort of miraculously, each team seemed to be dealing with similar themes: redemption, safety, solace, reconciliation. Together, they decided the show’s title should reflect that. They called their idea “Hotel Spokane.” It’s not a real place, but a creative manifestation of the artists’ ideas. An imaginary place of refuge.

“It’s more than ‘here’s this place and it’s a hotel and it has a front desk, and it has little rooms,’” Mobley says.

Hotel Spokane, to collaborators Kurt Olson and Nicole Wallace, appears as a tent structure — a nod to the tent city that cropped up along Riverside Avenue in the mid-2000s.

To writer Sharma Shields and artist Bridget Freeman Wamsley, Hotel Spokane is a story of three women who are represented in the exhibit as three “handmade shampoos” — just like you might have used in the shower this morning.

Poems collide with mirrors. Words and photographs wallpaper the walls inside a small house. There are illustrations and fabric sculptures.

“I’d say the art is going to be really cool,” Mobley says, “But the sociological experiment of this is a huge part of the fun part of it.”

“Hotel Spokane: Hope in the Midst of Despair” • On display through July 1 • Opening reception: Fri, April 5, from 5-8 pm • Chase Gallery • Inside Spokane City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. • Hours: Mon, from 8 am-9 pm; Tue-Fri, from 8 am-5 pm • Hotel Spokane reading:  Tue, April 9, at 6 pm • Spokane City Council Chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. • Free • outreach.ewu.edu/getlit

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