When the economy took a turn for the worse, many of Tacoma, Washington’s downtown retailers closed up shop or moved to areas with lower rent. This left behind a lot of empty storefronts, which in turn made the downtown area feel a little bit like a ghost town.
While many people saw only empty spaces and abandoned storefronts, Amy McBridge, the Art Administrator for the City of Tacoma, saw an opportunity. She felt that by utilizing the talent of local artists, the city could fill the spaces with art installations and other art-related enterprises to re-energize the downtown area. This led to the development of a program called Spaceworks.
Spaceworks is a collaborative project between the City of Tacoma, the Chamber of Commerce and Shunpike, a nonprofit organization that works to support art groups. The program, which was launched in 2010, allows downtown property owners to lend their vacant storefronts to artists for a variety of different uses.
Through the program, empty spaces are used for site-specific installations, artist residencies or other creative purposes. Spaceworks has breathed new life into the downtown area, making it a vibrant destination where people actually want to spend time.
Not only does the program benefit artists and art lovers, but it also benefits downtown property owners by making their spaces more appealing to potential renters. By essentially “staging” the storefronts, it allows retailers to see the true potential of the space, which in turn can help them decide to open up shop in the downtown area.
Just the other day, I was visiting downtown Tacoma and I was surprised to see how much activity there was compared to the past few years. The sidewalks are filled with people again, and the whole area feels energized and alive. I don’t know how much of that is due to Spaceworks and how much is due to economic recovery, but the artwork certainly seems to have done its part to help revitalize the downtown area.
Artists, community organizations and other creative enterprises can apply to the program through the Spaceworks website. If you’d like to learn more about the artists who are currently participating in the program, you can check out the list of current projects here.
This kind of creative thinking and willingness to adapt to changing circumstances is precisely what makes Tacoma such a great place to live.
Learn more about Spaceworks: