Spokane Art School unlocks new potential with its recent move to bigger U-District space

click to enlarge Spokane Art School unlocks new potential with its recent move to bigger U-District space
Young Kwak photo
Jodi Davis (left) and Lisa Soranaka are excited about Spokane Art School's future at a spacious new home in the University District.

In the 54 years since its inception, the Spokane Art School has called many places home.

From its humble beginnings as an art school for Rotary Club members' children in the basement of Litho Art Printers on South Lincoln Street to the Garland Avenue building the school called home for the last decade, the nonprofit always made it work.

Until it couldn't anymore.

"Have you been inside of the Garland space?" asks Lisa Soranaka, a longtime board member and ceramics instructor at the school. "It's tight. It's so small."

Along with art supplies stacking up in odd places and structural issues with the building's foundation, the location lacked some ADA-required accessibility. Narrow stairways led up to bathrooms and classrooms, doorways were slight, and there was hardly any wiggle room once teaching spaces were filled for instruction.

"We could fit 10 to 12 students in one room at one time," says Jodi Davis, the art school's office manager. "We were bursting at the seams."

Then came 2020. While student enrollment hit an all-time high in 2019, the school had no option but to close for four to five months during the pandemic's early months. Once Davis and Spokane Art School's board figured out how to continue operations through the pandemic, classes resumed fully online.

At that time Spokane Art School's small-but-mighty team of two paid staff members and a volunteer board of eight also began searching for locations to rent or buy. At one point, they considered tearing down the building at 811 W. Garland Ave. and building a new home.

"This was the middle of the pandemic," Soranaka says. "We could've just torn it down and built on top of it, but construction costs were through the roof."

In a perfect world, she says the school would have remained in the Garland District if it weren't for lack of space.

"We had so many limitations there and simply outgrew it. Of course the Garland location served a great purpose," Soranaka says. "It helped us set up a foundation in the community and get our feet on the ground, but this new space has always been the dream."

click to enlarge Spokane Art School unlocks new potential with its recent move to bigger U-District space
Young Kwak photo

Upon entering Spokane Art School's new home at the corner of Sherman Street and Second Avenue, it's apparent that tight spaces and accessibility issues are a thing of the past. Now located in the University District, the nonprofit arts hub brings a different kind of education to the area than its neighboring schools: Eastern Washington University's Catalyst campus and the medical school outposts of Washington State University, University of Washington and Gonzaga University.

The first floor of the new space features swathes of exposed brick walls. Paintings by Spokane artist Karen Mobley burst with color thanks to all the natural light invited in by floor-to-ceiling windows along the back wall of the main room. Other works by Mobley, who was the art school's featured artist for April, hang on a smattering of room dividers throughout the main floor's vast gallery space. The upper floor is home to an ADA-accessible restroom as well as one classroom.

Just after entering the new building, those familiar with the Art School's old space may sense a breath of fresh air, with plenty of room to move around, enjoy the current exhibition and shop for goods created by the school's instructors.

The school offers about 30 classes a month now, with a session taking place nearly every single day — something that would not be possible had it not relocated.

The school's lower floor features a large, open space fit for classes of all kinds. Drawing, sketching, sculpting, painting and pottery classes are but a sampling of what's on the schedule for May and June.

"Our one-year goal is to get a ceramic studio up and running," Davis says. "This space can now accommodate the kiln we already had, but couldn't use, plus an additional kiln."

The ceramics program has long been Soranaka's dream. She's currently creating a mosaic sculpture alongside fellow artist Mallory Battista as part of Spokane Public Library's artist-in-residence program at the Hive.

Davis mentions that, along with the opportunity for more classes, the art school's relocation has opened up possibilities outside its regular class schedule.

click to enlarge Spokane Art School unlocks new potential with its recent move to bigger U-District space
Young Kwak photo

"We're also able to host our events in-house now," Davis says. "Not only does that save us some money, but it also gives us the opportunity to invite the community in and make the entire space more community-oriented."

Spokane Art School is hoping to bring back Yuletide, its juried art market that hasn't been held since 2016, as well as the Spokane Drawing Rally (formerly known as the Monster Drawing Rally), which serves as the main fundraiser for its children's drawing and painting programs.

"Our big, long-term goal is to be involved in more community partnerships," Davis says. "We love our community, and our main mission has always been to teach Spokane to make and enjoy art. We hope to accomplish that through more interaction with the community."

"That's huge for us, and now that we have a space that's more functional, we can really work toward bigger things. We can share this gift that we've been given with the community that's given us so much over the years." ♦

Spokane Art School Faculty Show • Reception Fri, May 5 from 5-9 pm; Gallery hours May 5-26, Mon-Fri from 10 am-5 pm • Free • Spokane Art School, 503 E. Second Ave, Suite B • spokaneartschool.net

Woman, Artist, Catalyst: Art from the Permanent Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through March 9
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Madison Pearson

Madison Pearson is the Inlander's Listings Editor, managing the calendar of events and covering everything from local mascots to mid-century modern home preservation for the Arts & Culture section of the paper. She joined the staff in 2022 after completing a bachelor's degree in journalism from Eastern Washington...