Like many people in their careers, artist Stefani Rossi's productivity correlates to her immediate resources; working from a tiny studio (aka her living room) in her 600-square-foot apartment means correspondingly small paintings, no more than eight inches across.
"My definition of a good painting is: They work from far away and also up close," says Rossi, whose home studio limited her ability to spread out her work at once. And messy materials like oil paint were also not feasible.
Then she got super-sweet news. In August 2021, Rossi joined four guest artists and one writer to become the inaugural cohort to receive six months of free studio space at The Hive.
The Hive is one of three Spokane Public Library facilities resulting from the 2018 voter-approved bond measure that also funded the new Hillyard and Liberty Park locations.
Located at 2094 E. Sprague Ave., The Hive has three roles. The building accommodates Spokane Virtual Learning, which had outgrown the nearby Libby Center in the East Central neighborhood. It also provides free meeting spaces, including one room with running water and a garage door opening onto an outdoor area for such things as art classes and receptions. The third function is the guest artist or residency program.
Residency might imply that guest artists live in the space (they do not). Rather, The Hive artist-in-residency provides studio space for a specified time — up to six months — and the artists provide their own tools and materials.
Artists must also meet conditions like scheduling events (mostly on hold due to health protocols) and open studio hours when the public can view or interact with artists.
Rossi, who applied to share a studio with fellow artist Shantell Jackson, posted on her website when she and Jackson would be in the studio, which is otherwise locked, as is The Hive building.
Like many people during the past two years of COVID upheaval, Rossi was feeling the effects of isolation, she says, noting that she looked forward to reconnecting with the community throughout the residency.
"We had to balance between being a good ambassador for the program and 'Hey, I'm in my space to work,'" Rossi says.
Rossi spent the residency upscaling an abstract series she calls knekt, "an exploration of the rhythms of human interaction: isolation, connection, and belonging."
Having room to spread out her upscaled paintings — on tables, on the plywood wall, on easels — made a big difference in helping her self-critique her work and process, she says. "I can see them in context of each other."
Like Rossi, Jackson's small, home-based studio hampered her ability to make larger work.
The Hive residency, Jackson says, enabled her to create bigger pieces for her exhibition at Terrain Gallery in October 2021, the same month Spokane Arts hired her as program director. Now her goal is to complete a body of work by February, when her residency ends.
The Hive studios are between 540 and 800 square feet of space — larger than Rossi's apartment — and designed specifically for artists, says Eva Silverstone, the library's arts education specialist in charge of the residency program.
Spaces have concrete floors, plywood walls, and abundant natural and overhead light. Wall-to-wall storage and rolling tables mean artists can leave everything out and customize the space to their needs, says Silverstone, who is also an artist and a Spokane Arts commissioner.
The Hive program encourages collaborations and is not limited to specific media or kinds of artists, Silverstone says. In addition to Rossi and Jackson, for example, the inaugural group includes a photographer capturing images of BIPOC community leaders and a textile artist.
When health protocols allow it, programming intended to facilitate more interaction with residents and the public should resume, says Silverstone, who is currently reviewing applicants for the 2022 cohort. That includes workshops, artist-led discussions and regular open studio hours. Plans are also still underway to exhibit resident work at the Central Library, which is slated to open this year, Silverstone says.
Rossi says "the promise of exhibiting at the library is not a small thing." Maybe even more significant, she adds, is how "The Hive is a way of Spokane affirming the importance of art." ♦