Generation Next: Bustin’ Out on the Hilltop

21 Aug

Scratchin' an itch at Fabitat.

Last Thursday was party time in T-town, and not just because it was one of the few scant days of decent weather we’ve had this summer. No, not even crazed climatological activity could’ve checked the migration of artists and Third Thursday faithful who made their way to the Hilltop to celebrate Spaceworks’ first anniversary. Since last summer, this award-winning project linking artists with vacant retail space has supported more than 60 art exhibits, residencies and performance spaces; helped out scores of artists with rent (they don’t pay any); and energized downtown Tacoma in the process.

Fabitat offers computer instruction in their creative lab.

In case you’ve been holed up in the proverbial cave, a cluster of new Spaceworks art and performance venues have sprung up like mushrooms in the fertile soil around 11th St. and Martin Luther King Way (long-time stomping grounds of the Fulcrum Gallery). Scads of young people crowded the sidewalk at Fabitat, Fab-5‘s headquarters for the urban arts. Tacoma, meet Generation Next! It took about five seconds to grasp what an important and electric scene Eddie Sumlin, Chris Jordan, Kenji Stoll and Katie Lowery, the collective genius behind Fab-5, have hatched on the Hilltop through their non-profit, arts mentoring and instructional lab. The Fabitat program is a magnet for youth who on this night were celebrating with art- and music-making outside, while talking art and clicking away on computers inside. The place looks fantastic; what had been a lifeless commercial space has been beautifully reanimated with art and dance studios, and throbbing wall-size murals by local youths.

An added treat: guest performances by a Fab-5 neighbor, DASH Center for the Arts. DASH (“where Dancing, Acting, and Singing are always in Harmony!!”) offers affordable performing arts education to the youth and families of Tacoma.

P.R. specialist Hayley Hilmes works the green room at Toy Boat Theatre.

Next up on this hot strip of Hilltop was Toy Boat Theatre (TBT) entertaining visitors with short stage readings, stand-up comedy and stage combat. The acting troupe, headed by Marilyn Bennett, has been feeling flush after a mostly sold-out run of the play, Dakota’s Belly, Wyoming. It’s hard to describe what a terrific transformation TBT’s performance space has undergone during their Spaceworks residency, thanks to a lot of elbow grease and help from partners at the University of Puget Sound. And it’s paid off: around 200 people attended a recent opening, says Bennett. TBT’s only wish is that they had constructed the interior with “a smaller lobby and a bigger house [for audience seating].”

Rounding out the Hilltop hive, at N. Dybevik Co., musician/composer Nate Dybevik jammed with Fritha Strand Davern, Gary Kawamura, and Olympia band You are Plural, pulling in gallery goers with honky tonk and blues. In Dybevik’s mainspace, visitors were allowed to get up close and personal with the exquisite antique pianos Nate is restoring for his Spaceworks residency, under the tutelage of internationally known expert, Obi Manteufel. Classical instruments and devil’s music make intriguing bedmates at this studio, where Dybevik’s Jekyll/Hyde range of musical interests is allowed to run wild.

Nate Dybevik rocks the keyboards at his studio.

Next door at Fulcrum, gallery owner Oliver Doriss opened his cavernous back room for Hilltopatomic, a 21+ night of music and poetry. The Taqueria Las Torres taco truck and Jeff’s Ice Cream were keeping people well-fed and happy as we headed downtown to check out more Spaceworks art.

James Sinding's "Words": the medium is the message.

First stop: Tollefson Plaza, where James Grayson Sinding has transformed T-town’s most overlooked open space into a giant message board with his art installation, Words. This valentine to Tacoma is an ambitious riff on his award-winning 2010 work, Letters. Though it opened barely two weeks ago, when Sinding drove a dumptruck’s worth of handmade signage (resembling refrigerator magnets) to the plaza, about half the words have already been absconded with – a sign of the public’s ongoing obsession with his work.

Folks were snapping pictures on Broadway, where three excellent and diverse installations fill the long bays across from the Pantages Theatre. Seattle artist Rebecca Maxim‘s tribute to the struggle of HIV/AIDS patients – a translucent couture gown made from pharmaceutical packaging – is as seriously campy as the nom de guerre she has adopted, “Alotta De Tritus.” Anette Lusher makes an argument for reclaiming/reusing/recycling with her ingenious sculptures made of straws – more than 200,000 of them that quiver at the touch of a hand. And Julia Barbee‘s bulbous, hanging cloth sculptures covered with glittering white crystals become all the more fascinating when one learns she grew them herself…

Ivan, the B & I gorilla, immortalized in a Wayzgoose steamroller print.

At the Woolworth Building, we were pleased to see viewers walking (not driving) around the building’s window exhibits. It’s worth taking the time for a close look at work by artists including photographer Jennifer Adams, and a gaggle of talented Wayzgoose printmakers whose bold Tacoma-centric posters span seven years. We overheard bus commuters talking about the mysterious caribou filling a Commerce Street installation, CODA (“Did you know the deer is an archetype?” asked one bus rider, after noting that his father was a hunter). Michiko Tanaka‘s MODblog emitted a lonely glow at the Tollbooth Gallery. It was a full night of art viewing, from breakdancing at Fabitat to making the circuit of Woolworth’s. If we could’ve picked two words from James Sinding’s Words installation, they would be, “Tacoma Rocks.”

Reading between the lines at James Sinding's "Words."

A wild mystery: CODA.

Takin' it to the street at Fabitat.

Julia Barbee's cantaloupe-size sculptures encrusted with crystals seems unnaturally at home in this industrial space.

Amazing grace: a breakdancer wows visitors at Fabitat.

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