Expedia names Tacoma one of America’s most artistic towns

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City of Tacoma has taken plain traffic boxes on select city blocks and turned them into art. This one at South 72nd Street and Pacific Avenue was wrapped in a design created by Kathleen Mitchell. Photo courtesy of Office of Arts & Cultural Vitality

Expedia, one of the world’s most well-known travel company brands, recently released its second annual “Most Artistic Towns in America” list and, not surprisingly, Tacoma made the cut.

“It’s fantastic,” said Michael Sweney, chair of the Tacoma Arts Commission. “It recognizes that this city really is on the move.”

Sweney, who has served on the 15-member commission for 10 years and is in his third year as chair, said Tacoma has been going through a renaissance over the past 10-15 years, and the arts are a significant part of that.

Amy McBride, arts administrator in the City of Tacoma’s Office of Arts & Cultural Vitality, said Expedia got it right when it mentioned the City’s launch of ArtFull Tacoma in 2016 and the five-year strategic plan this establishes for long-term investment in art institutions, projects, and initiatives like expanding the arts to underserved communities in the city.

“(Expedia) recognizes how we’re doing a comprehensive approach,” McBride said.

McBride said ArtFull Tacoma takes a comprehensive approach at making equity investments and filling the gaps where the arts are lacking; looking at community partners and how the City can partner with them to spread the arts; how to increase public arts in the community; and being responsive to the needs of the community and intentionally nourishing all who do art here in the community.

Sweney, who is also the program manager for the Washington State Arts Commission public art program, said that what is remarkable about Tacoma is its welcoming approach to artists coming to the area wishing to make a difference.

“There is no competition among artists and creative economies in Tacoma,” Sweney said.

Sweney said Tacoma is witnessing a large movement of artists coming to live here, many of them leaving Seattle for more affordable living.

“I’ve known a lot of artists who have left Seattle, because they can’t afford their spaces anymore,” Sweney explained. “They’re looking for a community of artists and urban spaces. Tacoma has a rich history of the arts, and a quirky vibe that resonates with artists.”

Sweney said a significant goal of the Commission and the Office is maintaining affordable living spaces for artists and fostering those that are designed as live-work spaces.

One significant focus this year includes training a new cohort of local artists on how to create public art and the process to apply to do public art projects.

“It’s up to us to provide the structure and the context to empower them to enter that space,” McBride said. “Several years ago we found that previous graduates were able to compete in other artistic avenues outside Tacoma. (The training) helps them to build their portfolio and allows them to have the proper knowledge to be competitive.”

Another focus this year is on fostering partnerships with private industry. One example is partnering with the private developer of Tacoma’s Town Center to create public art projects in the space and help anchor the area at 21st and Jefferson.

“There are more opportunities for the artist community to connect with each other,” McBride said. “We’re at such an important time that there is so much amazing energy, so it’s really about how can we focus our efforts the best to help people grow and make a living here.”

McBride said Expedia’s mention of Tacoma is simply validation.

“It always feels good to say we’re going in the right direction,” she said.

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