by Carrie Scozzaro & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & ow will local visual arts be remembered in 2006? Art was made, appreciated, purchased... or not. Galleries opened and closed, roughly balanced. Artists emerged, while others moved on or slipped away. Some shows were good, others great, still others not very strong at all -- with attendance not necessarily indicative of the difference. And although the Inland Northwest continues to make gains in support of the visual arts, it's not much for trendsetting.

That's not to say the area isn't doing what similar communities are doing to promote the arts, namely ArtWalk or First Friday, a version of which exists in Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint, Moscow and, if you're willing to drive, many outlying areas. Another promising development lies in the concept of Raw Space, whereby empty businesses and arts organizers co-op to create a temporary gallery, albeit only during the twice-yearly Visual Arts Tour. Considering downtown's vast amount of vacant buildings, this trend's worth expanding.

The area has also bought into public art-as-fundraiser sculpture  bears, moose, carousel horses and Coeur dAlenes Fountain of Wishes, which allowed for a rare showcase of sculptural talent (versus painting on a cast figure). Whats next: Deer? Spotted owl? How about red wagons? Tempting possibilities there. Or perhaps its time this moneymaking vessel takes a new tack altogether; its become clich & eacute;.

While the local scene is still dominated by western art -- landscape, animals, cowboys -- there are pockets of contemporary exploration. Artists like Tom Dukich (video/installation), Dara Harvey and Melissa Furness (painting), Bernadette Vielbig (sculpture/assemblage), and Scott Kolbo (printmaking/mixed media) and others have recently shown work that is at or near the cutting edge, breaking boundaries with their experimental styles and modern sensibilities.

Several visiting artists exemplify what's going on beyond our regional confines. Andrea Zittel, for example, creates traditional (works on paper) and nontraditional works. Her breeding units for chickens, customized furnishings and mobile travel units blend art, architecture, urban planning and social sciences. Similarly, Whitworth College visiting exhibitor Jose Parla -- known for his urban graffiti-style paintings -- is experimenting with film.

This blurring of lines between media and genre is a national, even international trend, as described in December's issue of ARTnews. "More and more artists are directing feature films with large casts, big budgets, and elaborate story lines," writes Linda Yablonsky. What started with artists like Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp got a boost in the '70s from Andy Warhol. In the '90s, Julian Schnabel had a breakthrough success with Basquiat, with others following in his footsteps. Thus the new crop of directors to survive the Hollywood machine might have had their origins in painting, drawing, photography and other comparatively static visual arts. Interesting idea.

Another national link between visual arts and the movies occurs in the continuing trend to immortalize artists on the silver screen. Past efforts include Frida, starring Salma Hayek as the exotic and tortured painter Frida Kahlo, and the Abstract Expressionist biopic Pollock with Ed Harris. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus is the 2006 contribution, starring Nicole Kidman as the 1950s photographer of New York's so-called freak scene.

This mainstream glamorization of visual artists whose work ought to be recognized on its own merits begs the bigger question of society's valuation of the visual arts (too big a topic to tackle here), and brings us back to the idea of trends in general. Should we even care about them?

Maybe being outside the influence of national trends allows our local arts scene to progress in its own unhurried pace. Or maybe we're missing the boat and will never drift past the duck-stamp paintings that dot the regional landscape. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Top 10 Visual Arts Trends

10) Visual Arts Publication: Unfortunately, none, but before it folded recently, Artisan Northwest magazine celebrated the diverse art scene from western Montana to the coast.

9) Community Arts Organization: Since 1978, Pend Oreille Arts Council (POAC) has served the Sandpoint area with diverse arts and performance series.

8) Marketing Method: Adorn your space with fabulous artwork through the MAC's (underutilized) Art@Work rental program recently featured in Inland NW Homes & amp; Lifestyles.

7) Old masters: Mel McCuddin's enigmatic paintings are as at home on the walls at Boo Radley's or CenterStage as they are in Coeur d'Alene's Art Spirit Gallery.

6) Community Art Project: Fountains flowed this past May in Coeur d'Alene in a delightful fundraiser that broke the mold of artist-painted moose and bears.

5) Cerebral Infusion: The Visiting Artist Lecture Series sponsored by EWU, SFCC and the MAC stimulates Spokane with its nationally known arts speakers.

4) Underrated Local Art Program: Check out SFCC's faculty website and their awesome movie about the associate of arts (transfer) program.

3) Outdoor Arts Festival: Coeur d'Alene's Art on the Green still reigns as THE regional arts, crafts, food, performance and people-watching weekend.

2) New Gallery: Pigeon Hole Gallery (not unlike Kolva-Sullivan's maverick approach) offers an eclectic mix ranging from pop surrealism to socio-political to photography.

1) Visual Arts Tour: Downtown Spokane is transformed in October and otherwise-dreary February with traditional and impromptu venues showcasing students, professionals and everything in between. -- Carrie Scozzaro

Dressing the Abbey: The Iconic Wardrobe of Downton Abbey @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 2
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