Terrain founder knows art can transform people's lives
By Mary Stamp
The Black Lives Matter mural painted last May and June by 11 Black artists and five other artists of color has borne out Ginger Ewing's belief that art is transformative.
"There has been an incredibly positive response. It has been beautiful to witness people coming there to spend an hour going letter to letter, and parents telling their children the meaning in the art and the importance of Black Lives Matter," said Ginger, the executive director and founder of Terrain, which commissioned the artists to do it.
Jeff Oswalt, president of 14Four and co-owner of the building at 244 W. Main Ave., paid for the work to be done on the east side of the building along with his business partners Tyler Lafferty and Nick Murto, who also own Seven2.
The two digital advertising agencies that serve major national clients decided to turn the blank wall into the 147-foot mural as other murals were being painted around the United States after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"In all honesty, I was a bit skeptical of Jeff's motivation at first, but a few moments into our conversation, it was clear he would be an authentic partner," said Ginger.
The project was completed in a month. His staff painted the outlines for the letters and white background.
"At first, there was some hostility in the neighborhood and some unfortunate incidents. A few people screamed profanity at the artists as they were creating the mural, but as the letters were filled in, the hostility of people on the block changed," she said. "They saw the artists as human beings. They saw their talent and humanity."
In July, vandals splashed red, white and blue paint on the word, "Black," but the section was quickly repainted and a protective coating was applied.
"The paintings had humanized the artists," Ginger said. "It was hard to be angry when people saw a beautiful person creating beautiful art.
"It shows the transformative power of art," she explained. "Art opens us to receive a new perspective."
Now, the mural has been showered with praise and appreciation, she said, and people have expressed pride to have it in the city.
"I did not paint a letter but, as a black woman, I feel it has channeled my own pain and anger," Ginger said. "Before we did it, for the first time in my life, I was so angry I had started to lose hope. The project enabled me to channel my frustration into something profoundly positive. It took a stand. It was cathartic.
It helped Ginger amplify her voice and process her pain and sorrow.
"Now the mural is done, it is becoming an iconic part of downtown, a place to do events, like an NAACP Spokane COVID education gathering in March. It's a place to gather the community and celebrate."
Ginger heard that it inspired a father and son to drive around the U.S. to visit other Black Lives Matter murals.
Flight attendants staying in nearby hotels have said they did not expect such a mural in Spokane.
The mural is just one way Terrain enables the transformative power of art.
Terrain began 13 years ago to fight for under-represented people as they try to cultivate power in today's social uprisings expressed in art.
Ginger and her husband, Luke Baumgarten, former arts editor for The Inlander, started it with three friends, music booker Patrick Kendrick, marketer Sara Hornor and community organizer Mariah McKay.
Of its five founders, Ginger and Luke are still with Terrain, which started as an event.
Ginger, who grew up in Cheney and Spokane, said her father came to Spokane from New Orleans at the age of eight, worked 40 years with Kaiser and is now 70. He is French Creole. Her mother, who grew up in Spokane, taught English at Gonzaga University, Whitworth University, Eastern Washington University and Spokane Falls Community College. She is English, Irish and Italian.
Ginger grew up being told that if anyone was going to have fun in their 20s or be 'successful,' they needed to do it anywhere but here. Despite that advice, she knew there were pockets of creativity in Spokane."
Graduating from Whitworth in 2001 in history, biology and film, she hoped to be a forensic anthropologist until she learned there were only two jobs in the state.
Ginger worked six years as a curator of cultural literacy at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.
Then Terrain emerged.
The aim was an event to gather pockets of creativity in one room for one evening and celebrate pride, place and creativity in Spokane, she said.
"We sought to redefine who could and could not engage in art in Spokane. We sought to break down silos," she said. "While there were pockets of creativity in musical, literary and visual arts, part of the problem, we felt, was that they didn't know each other existed."
Twelve years later in one evening, Terrain 12, highlighted 274 artists and drew 13,000 people who bought nearly $40,000 in art.
Now Terrain offers two other events, Bazaar and Brrzaar. Both art markets typically see about $125,000 worth of art sold in a single day.
Although not originally intended to be an art organization, Terrain is now an art organization.
Terrain has other ventures.
• Terrain Gallery, which is a permanent gallery on the main floor of the Washington Cracker Building at 304 W. Pacific, is open from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays.
• From Here, its retail store, features 92 artists on the second floor of Riverpark Square, open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.
• The Creative Enterprises Incubator Program holds a 36-hour course over 12 weeks for professional development to help artists and creative entrepreneurs develop business plans.
• Window Dressing offers site-specific art installations and public art in vacant buildings downtown.
• Uncharted has partnered with the Spokane Symphony, taking the theme and characters of symphonic music, like Peter and the Wolf, and inviting local artists to develop original works of art related to it. The characters came in and out, merging with the local artists. It won national attention.
Ginger volunteered with Terrain for 10 years. In the last three years, Terrain had funds to hire staff. Ginger is the full-time executive director. Jackie Caro is the full-time operations director. Four part-time employees work in the From Here store, and Edward Hendrickson is their gallery sitter for the permanent gallery.
"What is my role as a black woman and citizen living in Spokane and owning an art organization? What is Terrain's role?" Ginger asked.
"It's not enough to be an anti-racist organization. It's not enough to cultivate relationships. We need to lead the way, to push the community to allow us to lead us to a more equitable, socially just world," she said.
"Terrain wants to be a leader in pushing our beloved city in that direction," she said. "We push to make the city be the city we want it to be in terms of art with a social justice lens.
"The importance of artists and the arts for our community is clear when we feel hopeless, seek community, express frustration and seek to organize," Ginger said.
She believes that art is important for survival.
"Art is a necessity, not a nicety. It is the heart and soul of who we are as individuals, a community and society," she asserted, telling of individuals who say art and creating it saved their lives.
"On individual, community, city and global levels, we see how important art is to survival, humanity and life," said Ginger.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May, 2021