by Kris Dinnison

Spokane's Artfest has come and gone, and Coeur d'Alene's Art on the Green is weeks away, but head south to Walla Walla's Artwalla celebration next week and you can still get your arts fix in a big way. Artwalla offers art lovers ten days of exhibits, galleries, dedications, food, entertainment and more.

Artwalla is an annual fundraiser of the Blue Mountain Arts Alliance, an organization dedicated to bringing the arts and Walla Walla together. "Our mission is to celebrate and build community by promoting access to the arts for everyone," says Jeana C. Garske, director of the Blue Mountain Arts Alliance and one of the organization's founding members. With Walla Walla's growing diversity, both socio-economically and culturally, achieving the group's goal of making the arts accessible is challenging. "That's why the public art program is so great," says Garske. "Anyone can enjoy it."

When Artwalla first got started six years ago, it included only a few events sponsored by the Blue Mountain Arts Alliance. Now other community organizations and businesses, including the Downtown Association, the Race Unity Coalition, the Carnegie Art Center, and the Walla Walla Foundry have been drawn to Artwalla's success and have rescheduled their annual events so that they can be a part of the whole celebration. "There have been a few involved before, but since last year more art organizations came under the umbrella of Artwalla," Garske explains.

That umbrella includes some outstanding events. On June 13, the celebration begins with a reception for the opening of a James Lavadour exhibit, followed by a square dance in the park across the street. Those who saw Lavadour's work when it was at Spokane's Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture last fall know that Lavadour's paintings alone are worth the drive. The Walla Walla Valley also used to be Lavadour's old stomping grounds.

"He's from the Umatilla Indian Reservation," says Garske. "James actually went to school in Walla Walla for some of his life...he spent his childhood and early life hiking and exploring the foothills of the Blue Mountains.... He writes about wanting to translate the experience of that into his paintings."

An added attraction of the Lavadour exhibit is that it is being held in Walla Walla's historic 1883 Building. At one time a boarding house of sorts, the building is the future home of Cayuse Vineyards' downtown storefront.

"As soon as Artwalla is done, Cayuse is going to go in and start work," Garske says. "The interesting part of this building is that upstairs it's like someone turned off the lights and closed the door in 1950." The building's upper floors are going to be open during the week through a tour called Walla Walla Exposed.

Beginning on Artwalla's first night and continuing throughout the week, the Promenade -- a city-wide self-guided art walk featuring 27 artists -- will be held. "With the Promenade it's possible to walk or bicycle to all the stops," says Garske. "The core areas downtown are really easy to walk to."

On Saturday, June 14, the backroom of the 1883 Building becomes the Backroom Barnyard, a hands-on arts experience for children. Visitors can also grab a bite at A Taste of Walla Walla, which appears to be a more dignified version of Spokane's Pig Out in the Park. As an alternative, they can obtain fresh ingredients to make their own fare at the weekly farmer's market, which features a free concert.

A Taste of Walla Walla is a recent addition to Artwalla's umbrella, but the partnership has been good for everyone. "Last year, Taste of Walla Walla partnered with Artwalla, and it tripled their attendance," Garske explains. "We were all pleased with that." Walla Walla's burgeoning wine industry gets in on the action at the Meet the Artists wine reception, which kicks off the Carnegie Art Center's annual juried regional art show.

In the days that follow, some events continue, while new ones show up on the calendar. On Sunday, there is a multicultural festival, including storytelling, food, music, and games sponsored by the Race Unity Coalition. On Monday, you can attend a lunchtime poetry reading, or take your children to audition for the Missoula Children's Theatre production of Treasure Island, which will be staged at the end of the week.

On Wednesday, join Artwalla organizers and artists as they unveil several public art pieces that are sure to become landmarks in the Walla Walla valley. This includes the unveiling of "Matilde on Her Way to the Market," commissioned by Artwalla and created by Colombian artist Nano Lopez. "The sculpture is 15 feet long and nine feet tall," explains Garske. "It's our centerpiece for the theme of Artwalla this year: Matilde the Cow."

That theme will also be in evidence at one of the final events of the week, the Gala Dinner and Bronze Pour on Saturday, June 21. "At the Gala Dinner, our centerpieces are ceramic cows made by the Teen Center," Garske says. "The kids make the centerpieces, and then they are purchased, and that money goes back to the Teen Center." The event is held at the Walla Walla Foundry and hosted by Mark and Patty Anderson, the owners of the foundry.

"Mark casts contemporary bronze art," Garske explains. "He has clientele from all over the world.... This is the fourth year we've been at the foundry." Being on location at the foundry allows this dinner fundraiser to offer its patrons something a little different than a choice of fish or chicken: Attendees get to watch the artistic process in action. "Every year we ask a local artist to design a bronze medallion," says Garske. "At the end of the dinner the medallion is actually poured." That medallion is then available for purchase, with proceeds supporting the Arts Alliance. "This year Monica Stobie, a Dayton resident, designed it," Garske says. "She's done extensive studies of cave drawings. The medallion is actually from a study she did of cave drawings in Lascaux in France."

When the week is over, Artwalla will have made a huge contribution to the growing sense that Walla Walla is a great destination with a lot to offer. And with the event not even a decade old, who knows what great ideas Garske and her friends at the Arts Alliance will come up with for next year? "Every year it has a little bit different flavor," she says. "It's a real celebration of the diversity of arts organizations in our community."

Publication date: 06/12/03

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