Arts & Culture

Where once was a vacant window, Olympia Artspace Alliance artists saw a canvas

Kathy Gore Fuss and Randi Parkhurst added scenes of nature to the building at Fifth and Franklin that once housed a nightclub.
Kathy Gore Fuss and Randi Parkhurst added scenes of nature to the building at Fifth and Franklin that once housed a nightclub. Courtesy of Kathy Gore Fuss

Something new is blooming downtown, and art-loving locals are abuzz.

The Olympia Artspace Alliance is working with artists and building owners to fill once-vacant windows, and the first exhibit, “Drawing on Olympia,” is generating excitement on city sidewalks.

The exhibit, on view through July 7, is made up of two installations: “Florabundance,” by Kathy Gore Fuss and Randi Parkhurst, and “#DTOLY,” by China Faith Star.

“This puts so much life back into our city center,” said Gore Fuss, who worked with Parkhurst to fill the windows of the former Capital Savings & Loan Building, 425 Franklin St. SE, with images of plants and bees.

“The amount of engagement from the public has been unbelievable,” she told The Olympian. “One woman came around the corner, and without breaking stride, she said, ‘I walk by this corner on my way to work every morning, and this makes my day.’ ”

“We want people to feel good about coming downtown,” said project coordinator Michelle Pope. “If you have art in vacant spaces, you have people pausing to look at the spaces in a new way.”

The project also creates opportunities for artists to show their work, which fits with the alliance’s mission of cultivating space for artists to live and work.

“Artists are facing more and more challenges with the closing of galleries,” Gore Fuss told The Olympian. “This program opens up a new and exciting venue that benefits property owners, landlords, artists and the public. … This is a brilliant idea for connecting all of us through history, art and innovation.”

The exhibit aims to encourage people to see new possibilities in familiar locations, and the alliance asked the artists to take inspiration from the city or the surrounding area.

As its title reveals, the kaleidoscopic collage “#DTOLY” — installed in the former 5th Avenue Sandwich Shop at 117 Fifth Ave. SE — is all about Olympia. “I chose images specific to my experience living and working in the downtown core: music, good food, people and beautiful views,” Star wrote in an artist’s statement.

Gore Fuss and Parkhurst went a bit further afield for “Florabundance,” which combines Parkhurst’s painted paper with Gore Fuss’s images of prairie plants and bees.

They were inspired by Frederica Bowcutt and Sarah Hamman’s “Vascular Plants of the South Sound Prairies,” an illustrated guide to vascular plants — also known as higher plants, as distinct from such lower plants as mosses and green algae — produced in collaboration with students at The Evergreen State College.

“Subconsciously, we develop relationships with local perennial plants,” Parkhurst and Gore Fuss wrote in their artists’ statement. “They help us to understand the cycles of life, the seasons and their beauty.”

The alliance aims to mount two more exhibits later this year and will have application information on its website soon, Pope said. One of those might be able to accommodate three-dimensional work as well as work on paper.

She also imagines extending the program to open up unused buildings as studio space, the way Tacoma’s Spaceworks does.

“It’s another hope of ours,” she said. “But that’s a little bigger hurdle for property owners to wrap their brains around.

“We’re taking it one window at a time.”

‘Drawing on Olympia’

  • What: The Art in Olympia Storefronts project’s first exhibit has turned vacant windows into sidewalk galleries.
  • When: Through July 7
  • Where: “Florabundance,” by Kathy Gore Fuss and Randi Parkhurst, is at the former Capital Savings & Loan Building, 425 Franklin St. SE, Olympia. China Faith Star’s “#DTOLY” is at the former 5th Avenue Sandwich Shop, 117 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia.
  • More information:
  • Meet the artists: Artists Kathy Gore Fuss, Randi Parkhurst and China Faith Star will talk about their work and the Art in Olympia Storefronts Project from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday, June 20, in the New Caldonia Building, 116 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia. That will be during the Olympia Downtown Alliance’s Third Thursday event.