Last summer, Olivia Brownlee shot a two-and-a-half-minute music video at the Rockin' B Ranch, the rural Liberty Lake spot that serves as a year-round wedding venue and plays host to Wild West-themed dinner shows. In the clip, Brownlee performs a twangy, gleefully law-skirting ditty called "Don't Tell the County," while her mom and dad, the owners of the Rockin' B, do-si-do around the barn.
The video serves two purposes, Brownlee says: It's a way to share the song, of course, but it's also an advertisement for the ranch itself, which has been closed since March due to COVID-19 restrictions.
It was around this time that Brownlee had her lightbulb moment: "Why shouldn't it be that artists support businesses?" she tells the Inlander.
So Brownlee approached the nonprofit organization Spokane Arts and received a grant through the Spokane County CARES Act, and the result is a project called Art Means Business. It paired local musicians with local filmmakers, and tasked the teams with shooting music videos at local businesses of the artists' choice. It's similar to a previous Spokane Arts endeavor called Music Video Jams, though with an extra focus on Spokane's economy.
"The No. 1 priority of creating these videos was to support the local businesses in question, to promote them and kind of tell their story and give people some insight into local businesses that maybe they otherwise wouldn't be familiar with," says Spokane Arts Executive Director Melissa Huggins. "It also felt like a really great way to be able to put some artists to work, to be able to give filmmakers and musicians a project ... and feel like they were doing something to support the broader community."
Art Means Business has thus far produced four music videos — rock quartet Buffalo Jones at the Big Dipper (directed by Michael Notar), harpist Kathlyn Kinney at the Spokane Boxing Gym (directed by Darrien Mack), and rapper Ayre at the Rain and Scratch restaurants (directed by Misty Grace Shipman).
Brownlee chose to center her video on the Northwest Mediation Center, where she has participated in classes. The clip, directed by Miguel Malton Gonzales, features the song "No Man's Land."
Local filmmaker Juan Mas has worked on a few small sets since COVID-19 protocols became standard, and he was brought on as a producer of Art Means Business to ensure the video shoots moved smoothly and met the proper safety standards. The pandemic has changed the way film sets run: Crews must be pared down to the most essential roles, and on-screen performers still need to keep a distance of six feet.
"You have to think outside the box and be even more creative," Mas says. "How are you going to tell that story without just using your standard coverage tricks?"
"It was constricting in some ways," Brownlee says of her own COVID-compliant shoot. "But it was fun, because you're on a very small, very stripped-down film crew, and you're all there experiencing the same limitations. It's like, 'OK, we can have camaraderie over this.'"
That sense of camaraderie extends to the businesses themselves, which not only get to serve as backdrops but are able to tell their stories in behind-the-scenes clips that accompany the respective music video drops.
"Being an artist myself, we always hear that chant of 'businesses need to help support the arts.' And this became an opportunity for artists to help support local businesses," Mas says. "It was really heartfelt from everybody involved — the filmmakers, the businesses and musicians. And I think some relationships really got built because of that."
"[The artists] have a sense of local pride, because they knew exactly which business to pick right away," Brownlee says. "In my ideological mind, it's about cultural identity. These aren't songs about Wal-Mart."
"What I hope that people take away from them is how crucial artists are to telling stories," Huggins says. "It's such a great illustration of how creatives can solve problems, and how creatives are crucial to telling these stories." ♦
The Art Means Business videos are available on the Spokane Arts YouTube channel, and at spokanearts.org.