Tacoma art co-op fosters creativity

TACOMA — It started with a trip to Africa, and a dream of a shared art space in Tacoma. Now the dream has a building, art supplies and equipment and a small but growing community of folks making art together.

Tacoma Art Place recently celebrated its first anniversary, and its supporters are excited by where the nonprofit cooperative is going.

“I got the idea while traveling in Mali in 2006,” said Linda Danforth, founder and president of Tacoma Art Place.

Part of a group studying microeconomic projects in the west African nation, Danforth visited a women’s cooperative run by the Edmonds-based Fabric of Life Foundation. Communal sewing machines and jewelry-making materials made work and income possible for people who could never have afforded the equipment on their own and, in turn, created a supportive community.

Danforth envisaged such a cooperative in Tacoma but based on art. “I thought it was such a great model for people to share expensive equipment,” she said.

A jewelry artist, Danforth already was setting up professional artist cooperatives in Tacoma’s warehouse and theater district areas: The Jet Artist Cooperative and The Broadway Artist Cooperative. But the Tacoma Art Place was going to be something different: a place where anyone, from beginner to professional, could go to learn, make art and make friends.

“I’ve made 30 pieces since I joined seven months ago,” said Bo Chambers, a Tacoma fabric artist. Chambers is a poster child for the kind of outreach TAP is aiming for: a former fashion designer, she’d been unemployed for a while, making the odd piece of art at a rehabilitation center.

Now, thanks to TAP- supplied fabric, beads, glue guns and work space, Chambers has made 30 textile sculptures in her seven months at the cooperative, is marketing her work again and was a featured artist on a TAP studio tour, Danforth also helped her set up a Web site at no cost.

“I’m in here three or four days a week,” said Chambers. “If not for Tacoma Art Place, I’d only be making something occasionally for a gift. I just wouldn’t have the space.”

A year after its inception, Tacoma Art Place runs as a nonprofit under the umbrella of the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation; the cooperative has its own 501(c)3 application in process. It has a five-person board, an advisory board, 114 memberships and a five-room space in the Alberta Canada building just off Martin Luther King Jr. Way, on South 11th Street.

“There’s nothing like this anywhere, except for the homeless,” said Sue Pivetta, a ceramicist who has also been on the TAP board since its inception. “This place helps artists — not just the art snobs, but people in the community and low-income artists.”

The idea behind the community cooperative is its affordability. For $48 per year (negotiable for low-income earners) members can use any of the equipment or free supplies, store work, check out cameras for two weeks and get a discount on classes (some are even free). A $10 day-pass gets most of the same benefits. For the standard fee, visitors can also just attend a class.

The nonprofit has a bunch of supplies and equipment, all donated by local artists and companies. There’s a photographic darkroom, an array of cameras, seven sewing machines, a light cabinet, eight easels, three kilns, work tables and various tools. The nonprofit also has a library of art resource books and a TV for watching instructional videos. Walls in the lobby offer gallery space to show artists, and 13 classes run each week on everything from drawing and painting to knitting, beading and glass fusing.

The community cooperative also is reaching out to people who can’t come to its space to make art. During the spring and summer, a city grant allowed the organization to run five workshops at Tacoma Housing Authority and YWCA locations, led by artists such as Pivetta and with free supplies and firings. More free outreach workshops were held at TAP’s Hilltop location.

Olympia glass artist and visitor Kim Merriman said, “It’s an ideal space. People can do their craft and enrich themselves and their community. It’s a big need.”

Filling that specific need is the reason why Tacoma Art Place has the support of the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation.

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