by Marty Demarest

One of the most rewarding sights on the Visual Arts Tour, for those who are passionate about the arts, isn't a painting or sculpture by any particular artist. Rather, it's the crowds of people that find their way onto the sidewalks and into the galleries, studios and coffeehouses around town, looking at, discussing and generally supporting the arts. There's a long-term investment that happens when an art lover finds a local artist whose paintings they can be passionate about, or when someone finds that it's as easy to spend an hour discussing a sculpture as it is to converse about a movie.

Consequently, one of the best ways to experience the tour is simply to go out and spend some time looking and thinking. The tour isn't so much about limiting your experiences to the "official" venues as it is about letting your eye settle on some form of art, and allowing your mind to explore the possibilities therein.

A good place to start, especially if you're coming from the north side of town, is A Cat's Eye Gallery, which is located on Indiana, above a carpet shop. Up a flight of stairs and down a hallway lined with paintings and windows into artists' studios, you'll find yourself in a large, rambling open space where sculptures, jewelry and glass art settle eclectically next to handmade marbles and converted pieces of furniture. The gallery also plans to have artists present on Friday night, offering glass blowing demonstrations.

A little farther off downtown's beaten paths, among the art, music and coffee shops on Garland, is Tegra Ping Utio, the studio of James Dhillon. Dhillon covers large, often textured, surfaces with vibrant splashes of paint, creating paintings that change as you walk around them, viewing different angles and combinations of color and design.

Also on the north side of the river, and a quick walk through Riverfront Park if you're in the mood for a view of the falls, is an exhibit by Felisa Carranza, in The Flour Mill. Carranza's bold, dreamy paintings offer seemingly familiar scenes and shapes often illuminated with a touch of unreal sadness.

On your way downtown, stop by the Chase Gallery to check out Dan McCann's mixed media sculpture and installation, "Stepping Out of the Box."

If you have not yet slaked your java cravings, you'll have another chance to do so while feasting your eyes on some art at the Rocket just off Division on Main. Many of the pieces hanging there are by artist Dan Spalding, who also has a solo show just a few doors down, at the FSG Factory Showroom. Spalding's portraits and abstractions from life have an urgent, almost visceral sense of construction, while centering themselves with serene, almost affectless composition.

A much bolder series of paintings -- as well as a representation of the zeitgeist on the streets -- can be found not far away under I-90 in the skate park, where graffiti artists give representation to their thoughts and imaginations, all with the awareness that the work may be gone the next day. Another chance to experience the ways in which the visual arts find their way into our everyday lives will be at Constant Creations Custom Tattoo and Gallery at 524 W. First. In addition to the opportunity to walk out wearing a work of art, the show will include drawings, paintings and performances by local artists during the tour. And if a truly sensuous, multimedia experience is what you're craving -- or just a milkshake and French fries -- check Brad Delay's oil paintings in a show entitled "Hate on Holiday and Other Odds and Ends" at the late-night Satellite Diner.

Mootsy's, which plays host equally to poetry readings and pub crawls, will feature the acrylic paintings of Michael Mercer on the walls, and a performance by the music duo Gorilla and Rabbit onstage. Another visual embodiment of animals can be located in the quieter environs of the Liberty Cafe at Auntie's Bookstore where Debbie Hughbanks and Marsha Marcuson's art will be hanging in a show called "The Critters Among Us." A few blocks away in the new Homestead Birkenstock space, be sure to stop in, have a latte and view E.L. Stewart's new show, "Land and Trees."

Passing through downtown to the near westend, the old Music City Building will be hosting several different shows. What may be the most varied selection of art in the entire tour will be on display as part of the Raw Space show, which features the work of more than 120 artists (the biggest ever), and live keyboard and guitar music. A more unified approach can be found in the Spokane Camera Club's show of monochrome and color prints taken by members. And if you're feeling a little cold visiting all the different venues, the same building will also be featuring the Inland Northwest Textile Arts Association's show of textile and fiber artwork, including sculptural pieces and wearable art, by six regional artists.

Finally, the ground floor of the old Lambert Candy Company just a few blocks further west will host the unveiling of "The Barnstormer," as well as "Reflections on the River," a collection of new oil paintings by James Francis LaVigne at 5:15 pm.

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