by Sheri Boggs

We found it interesting -- sad, really that in our recent KXLY/Inlander survey, cultural/entertainment opportunities were ranked the second least important concern of Spokane residents. While we're pretty sure the ranking would be much higher among regular Inlander readers, we still have to wonder, what gives? Any city worth its welcome sign has a vibrant arts scene, and while Spokane has admittedly deserved its bum arts rap in the past, those days are over. The arts are thriving like never before and a new influx of artistic energy is joining forces with existing arts organizations to raise the bar and challenge the status quo.

One of the best ways we've found to experience art and culture in Spokane is by taking part in the Visual Arts Tour. If you've never done it before, what's stopping you? If you have done it before, maybe it's time to get downright evangelical about this and grab some friends -- and this section -- and come on down! You'll have a blast and quite frankly, in these new and troubled times, we can't think of a better way for the community to come together than in celebrating the spirit-satisfying possibilities of the arts.

As in years past, the fall leg of the Visual Arts Tour coincides with the last Live After Five event of the summer. So in addition to all the gallery offerings, you'll also have a chance to hear live music at various venues throughout downtown.

"I think this might be the biggest Visual Arts Tour we've had so far," says Susan Hardie, outreach coordinator for the Spokane Arts Commission, which oversees the event. "We have 45 different shows going on this year."

There will be numerous opportunities to find something fetching that belongs in your very own home, and that's a good thing because once again the commission is offering the "art buyer's incentive." Those who purchase art the night of the tour will have the chance to enter a drawing for the Grand Prize, in this case, a new Cricket phone and three months of free service from Cricket Comfortable Wireless.

One difference in this year's tour is that there will be no charter bus between downtown and the outlying venues, but many of the downtown venues are within easy walking distance of one another. Which is fortuitous, considering how you'll be at one gallery checking out the art action when you'll catch wind of something equally cool just down the street. This year, Rally in the Alley looks to be one of the biggest draws, but in addition to that you'll find pockets of activity on just about every block in downtown Spokane.

In the once grungy, now hip environs of West Main, you'll find four noteworthy stops, including Global Folk Art in the Community Building. This international trade arts and crafts nonprofit shop features pottery, woodworking, clothing and even batiks by last year's Whitworth Artist in Residence, Nicolas Sironka. Across the street, the SFG Factory Showroom showcases new oil on canvas works by Dan Spalding, augmented by the acoustic stylings of Bee. And the new Tech Group Building, down the street next to the District 81 building, offers fiber and mixed media by Nan Drye. Just across Division, you'll find the Northwest Hair Company, 204 N. Division, for Sam White's acrylics in canvas.

Just up a block on Riverside is Colburn's Gallery, which sponsors the Regional Juried Water Media Show, and is one of the Live After Five venues, with music by the Brian Flick duo.

Heading into downtown, don't miss "A City Sparrow," an exhibit of new works by Kay O'Rourke at the Lorinda Knight Gallery on Sprague, the peace-infused works of Maria Bertucci at Jan Designs on Washington and the sculpture show at the Old City Hall, 221 N. Wall.

We've also noticed -- and applaud -- the trend of at least a few venues on the Visual Arts Tour with not-your-typical-art-show fodder. Last year it was the hot rod art at E; this year we're thinking "Image Mob" at Constant Creations (yep, the tattoo parlor) will be mobbed by all the hip young folk.

"What we're aiming for is kind of a lowbrow style of art," says Brad Delay, one of the participating artists. "We're hoping one of our tattoo artists, Charissa Eller Doherty, can show some of her work, and pretty much what you'll be seeing is a lot freer stuff. We're really happy to be part of the tour this year."

Steam Plant Square has a 27-artist show at Stacks, including photography, painting, metal work and even a show of Santas. Other group shows include "Art of the Northwest" at the Spokane Regional Business Center, a sculpture show at the STA Plaza, an exhibit of works by WSU-Pullman Fine Arts Graduate Students at WSU-Spokane (in the Metropolitan Financial Center Bldg) and two shows at Art at Work, including a preview of this year's Inland Craft Warnings. Also in that area is Joel, 165 S. Post, which offers "Exhibition #9," new digital work and compelling oils by former EWU art professor Richard Twedt.

With all that walking around, you and your little ones (if you've got 'em) will no doubt appreciate "Sole Mates" at the Children's Museum on Post. In addition to this show of shoe art, the museum will also have special activities the night of the Visual Arts Tour.

While you're in that same general area, cut through River Park Square to get to the Chase Gallery in City Hall, where you'll find the "Domestic Mythology" of painter Stephen Schultz. On your way back into downtown proper, you can't miss the retro kitsch of Out of Our Minds, which is also hosting "Posh in Spokane: A Surrealist Exhibition."

Just over the river from downtown is the Spokane Art School, 920 N. Howard, a venerable three-story institution across the street from the Spokane Arena. It is the site of the Huneke Gallery and a show of recent works by Spokane artist Lila Girvin. Working through issues of love and loss, her oils on canvas are memorable and affecting.

Just down the street is the Flour Mill, 621 W. Mallon, where you'll find the newly remodeled Pottery Place Plus. "We're one of the oldest cooperatives this side of the Mississippi," says John Stokesberry, one of the artist/owners. "We have 22 artists right now, and we've increased our space by 50 percent." The Flour Mill is getting a much-needed interior face lift and while the Pottery Place is rushing to be ready by Friday night, their grand reopening will happen later on in November. "We'll be ready," laughs Stokesberry. "But our opening in November is the real deal."

Finally, the west end of the Visual Arts Tour includes some guaranteed hot spots with a show of works by Archie Bray resident artists Jason Walker and John Utgaard at the Lambert Candy Company until 8 pm. Walker and Utgaard will also present a ceramic workshop from 10 am-4 pm at the North Star Ceramic Center, 714 E. Sprague, the next day. The workshop is free and open to the public. And finally, "Fingerpalooza" at the Rocket in Carnegie Square (formerly Fitzbillie's) has artist Marcus Bausch painting to the music of Calliope's Burden, Don Kush and Sidhe.

Dreamworks Animation: The Exhibition @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 11
  • or