What Would You Do with 3 Months Free Rent?

26 Jan

Filmmaker Isaac Olsen (right) shoots stills at his post-production studio. Photo: Schnelluloid Film.

“What would you do if you were given a large, downtown studio space, free and clear, for up to six months?” It’s not the template for a bouncy reality show (we hope-), but a question local artists can realistically ponder, thanks to the Creative Enterprise and Artist Residency tracks of Spaceworks Tacoma. The goal of these programs is to set up dedicated artists and creative entrepreneurs with donated, vacant retail space (we’re talking prime real estate, folks), providing a three-to-six month platform for developing, exhibiting or even selling art work. Residency studios may also be used for practice or performance space. With the second round of Spaceworks drawing to a close, we asked six outgoing artists to describe their experience.

Michael Kaniecki and Semi-Automatic

For Michael Kaniecki, the answer to the question was easy: he would make an extraordinarily long (as in, 40+ ft.) and dynamic India ink painting. Working without a roadmap, his project, Semi-Automatic, unfurled as a “slow drawing performance piece” entailing a gradual accumulation of abstract lines intended to draw viewers in like a Rorschach test.

“I am thankful to the Spaceworks program for allowing me the space to explore, since I cannot handle a work of this size in my home studio,” says Kaniecki. “Another aspect of the residency that worked for me was the sidewalk exposure to the public that the space offered. I could not have asked for a better venue for showing this work in progress. I had a ball doing my project downtown and accomplished most of what I had in mind.” Next on deck: a street-art project addressing the architecture and infrastructure of downtown Tacoma.

Fighting Peacocks, by Josh Everson

Photographer and painter Josh Everson was one of Kaniecki’s studio mates at the downtown-bank-building-turned-art-headquarters. He was already enmeshed in new work when we contacted him: “Well, I just moved out last week. I wasn’t able to complete as much work as I liked, because I am working 3 jobs now” – and, there was a certain problem with the plumbing. (Memo to MTV: if an art-based reality show is in the works, for verisimilitude, don’t forget to include multiple challenges involving A) heating, or B) toilets. Preferably both). “I was able to create some great work with my studio time, both photography and painting. I started a series that I am very passionate about. I’m not ready to disclose any details, but I thank Spaceworks for the opportunity and inspiration.”

Isaac Olsen and his main squeeze. Photo courtesy of Schnelluloid Film.

One man’s plumbing nightmare is another man’s playground. The building’s third resident artist, filmmaker Isaac Olsen, had been seeking a place to do post-production, but discovered the location was ideal for a film set. “I made extensive use of our fabulous rooftop [parking] view for several scenes – and took advantage of the eerie acoustics of the building by recording various brass instruments in different rooms and passages, to haunting effect.” His feature film, I Hunger, “is now experiencing an ‘intensive editing phase,’ and I hope to screen it this summer….I got exactly what I wanted out of the facility: unlimited physical space. My outlook as an artist is tip top!”

Tiffanie Peters shows her stuff at Chiffon.

Across the street, fashion designer and jewelry artist, Tiffanie Peters, got a crash course in retail when she opened her glam, 1970’s-inspired boutique, Chiffon. For her six-month, creative enterprise residency, she received the kind of raw space most artists can only dream of: a Pacific Avenue storefront big enough to house a family of four. But it took a herculean effort to open for business.

Spaceworks Tacoma: Tiffanie, please tell us about your experience as a creative retailer and designer.
Tiffanie Peters: It was a great experience! I learned a lot about retail. I also learned that a designer/artist needs to focus on a medium….Through this experience I have learned where my strengths are. Running a shop, producing product and having a full-time job is no easy task! If I had to do it all over again I would have had a partner set up beforehand.
SW: Anything else you would’ve done differently?
TP: Yes, I would have painted the walls one color [instead of a hand-textured blend of four]!
SW: You had a terrific set up here, with a boutique in front and a professional sewing room in back. What was your proudest achievement during your residency?
TP: I created a new series of cuff bracelets which inspired a line of bridal crowns that are in the works.
SW: You kept insane hours, balancing creative time with your day job, and a long commute to Shelton. How did you keep it going?
TP: I turned into a zombie.
SW: What are your plans for Chiffon?
TP: An online shop and to focus on wholesale.

Jennifer Adams is an artist and the founder of the beloved renegade boutique, fly. Her six-month creative residency hit major snags, including a forced move due to a fire at the next-door sandwich chain, but she retains her enthusiasm for showcasing and selling product and design by local artists. Now ensconced at King’s Books, fly will be closing (or rather, “hibernating”) starting January 31, but Adams hopes to reopen in the fall, possibly as a pop-up store. Until then, she’ll be busy with teaching engagements at the Museum of Glass, School of the Arts, and Metro Parks.

John Bartley, veteran and violinist, performed at a reception at the War Experience Project. Photo: Rick Lawson

Rick Lawson at the War Experience Project

Rick Lawson introduced a special, one-of-a-kind exhibition to Tacoma in the War Experience Project, which has been extended through April. Lawson, an Iraq veteran, says that after a slow start, the program has attracted a steady stream of vets interested in making art at the drop-in center. The exhibition centerpiece is a somber and fascinating collection of uniforms painted by military men and women. The WEP calendar includes events such as movie screenings, a book signing, a service dog presentation, and live music. A KING-5 interview with Lawson about the exhibit recently garnered an Emmy Award. The WEP is open by appointment at 906 Broadway; information at http://www.warep.com. (The War Experience Project extends special thanks to Major General Timothy Lowenberg and Mary Lowenberg, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Leneweaver, Major Matthew Cooper and Catherine Senn for their support of this project.)

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