'Spaceworks' artists breathing new life into empty Tacoma storefronts




Posted on August 29, 2012 at 6:56 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 29 at 7:55 PM

After years of struggling with empty storefronts, the City of Tacoma is hoping to fill up the holes in a creative way. 

The “Spaceworks” program is a joint venture with the city, the Chamber of Commerce and Seattle arts non-profit Shunpike.

A small enclave of stores in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood is a good example of how the program works.  After seeing the buildings empty for years, the city approached the landlord and helped get some “creative enterprises” in.

It’s fair to say no two are the same.  In one space they teach graffiti art, break-dancing and how to deejay.  In another, there’s a bicycle co-op and a piano repair shop. A little further down, there’s a creative writing center.

Together the shops make up a sort of renaissance for the empty store-fronts that plague Tacoma.

The city says so far 26 creative enterprises have been launched through the program.

“The property owner provides the space,” explained Tacoma Arts Administrator Amy McBride.  “They have their own insurance, they pay the utilities, do basic improvements and liven the place up.”

Participants get free rent for about six months.  Some, like Cindy Arnold’s Live Paint Theater, have turned into paying tenants.

“I think Spaceworks is a good example of how important community is and how we can help each other,” Arnold said.

Arnold's family-friendly theater allows parents and children to watch and participate in performances.  Children are encouraged to draw in chalk on the sidewalk outside and explore the inside.
“The beautiful thing now is you drive by this block and it's busy,” Arnold said.

In some spots the city has livened up store fronts with art displays.  More than 60 installations have given vibrancy to formerly empty space. 

“There's a perception that there's nothing happening, like no energy here, there's no creativity,” artist Kenji Stoll said.  “I think Spaceworks is a cool way to change that perception and show people there's a lot happening.”

Stoll is part of the non-profit youth arts organization Fab-5.  They’ve been around for more than a decade, usually relying on churches or community centers for space. 

Spaceworks gave them their first opportunity to have a spot where they could work with kids year round.

“Through Spaceworks small organizations like us are able to take that next step and contribute back in a serious way,” Chris Jordan said.

The city hopes by bringing together artists and empty spaces they'll change the big picture for the city of Tacoma.

You can get more information on Spaceworks at www.Spaceworkstacoma.com