Melissa Huggins began serving as the executive director of Spokane Arts in 2016. Before that, she headed the Get Lit! programs at Eastern Washington University for five years — a job that included organizing K-12 creative writing outreach initiatives and the annual Get Lit! Book Festival. Although her Spokane Arts advocacy is multidisciplinary, she retains a soft spot for literature and sits on the boards of both Scablands Books and Pivot: Live Storytelling Series.
We sat down and asked her for a read on how Spokane Arts is impacting the region.
1. Going Public
One of the most visible ways Spokane Arts is establishing a lasting creative legacy is through public art, with some prominent examples being the downtown murals, the signal box wrappers and new sculptures. "There are so many construction projects happening in Spokane, and we're helping to facilitate the public art for many of those big, long-term projects," Huggins says. As an example, she points to the bi-level plaza that's being installed above the new CSO (combined sewer overflow) tank (number 26, to be exact) near the downtown library. The Spokane and Colville tribes are jointly creating permanent artwork, which will be a mix of sculpture and photography that will speak to the 'history of the tribes and the importance of the river.'"
2. Creating a SAGA
The Spokane Arts Grant Awards, or SAGA, is a competitive funding scheme that was established in 2017 to help kickstart ambitious local art initiatives. And despite being new, it's already doing just that. The list of SAGA-funded creative ventures includes such projects as Spokane Women Together, a multimedia exhibit by Hilary Hart and Rick Singer that's designed to reveal Spokane's cultural and individual diversity.
"There are very few outlets in Spokane and in the region that give grants specifically toward the arts," says Huggins. "We're one of the few organizations that is directly supporting artists, organizations and collectives through actual financial support."
3. A Collaborative Spirit
"We're uniquely situated to bring together public and private partners, which has been really crucial to making a lot of things happen," she says. In that vital niche, Spokane Arts operates as a creative matchmaker and helps individuals and groups to break out of their traditional silos and work together toward bigger goals. "That allows us to have a huge impact on all the neighborhoods of the city and many different people and types of artists."