The Art That Surrounds You, All in One Place: Tacoma Armory

by Adam McKinney

We speak about the sheer amount of artistic minds that exist in the South Sound, but it’s rare to see so many of them assembled under one roof. In the case of the third annual Arts at the Armory, the City of Tacoma has brought together some 100 artists, of all different mediums and disciplines, to showcase their work over two days. For anyone who’s out of the loop, when it comes to the art that exists in Pierce County, this is an invaluable crash course.

Arts at the Tacoma Armory, photo by Brian Cox

“We were slowly starting to come out of the pandemic era, and the City of Tacoma’s Office of Arts and Cultural Vitality had been hosting what we called the Tacoma Studio Tour, at the time,” says Daniel Garcia, community programs specialist. “This was where community members could go visit artists at their studios — often at their homes, because oftentimes their studios are at their homes — and because the pandemic had placed restrictions, artists didn’t necessarily want people coming to their homes.”

In 2021, as more vaccines had been given out, and as masks were becoming more a way of life, Arts at the Armory was created to find a way to have people stay distanced and still meet these artists. The Tacoma Armory, with its 20,000 plus square feet of space, was chosen to allow as many people to mingle as possible, while still keeping a safe distance. With the first year being a success, the artists were asked if they’d like to keep the Arts at the Armory, the Tacoma Studio Tour, or both, with the overwhelming majority deciding the more the merrier.

“What’s cool about the Arts at the Armory is that it’s completely free for the vendors to participate in,” says Garcia. “People don’t realize that, at farmers’ markets or night markets, there’s often a vendor fee that can be inaccessible, especially for artists that are just starting. That definitely attracts a lot of people, but I think that Tacoma being a local-focused community helps, because the artists’ friends will hear about it, and they get connected, and then we start lining people up. All of the artists are reviewed and juried, and this year we landed on about 102 artists, with one or two of whom had to drop out because of the regular goings-on of life.”

At this event, you get to meet and interact with artists, see their creations on offer, perhaps even buy them, but more importantly get a greater appreciation for just how much brilliance makes up this side of the world. Even those who have spent a significant time in the Tacoma arts scene, like Garcia, find themselves discovering people who they might not have ever come across purely through the open application process and the ability to showcase the number of people this event does.

Fall Witch, photo courtesy of the artist Kcie Monk

“Another thing I think is different and nice about this event is that it’s not just visual artists,” Garcia continues. “In some cases, we have literary artists, we have poets, we have dancers, so we’re really trying to find that whole realm of artistry and bring it through to Arts at the Armory.”

“I thought I knew everybody, but I don’t, it turns out,” says Garcia. “There are definitely a few people that I really was excited about. One of those was Zachary Curtis; he does spray paint, stencil, kind of like street art or modern pop art on smaller prints. There’s been some really cool social justice-based artists that participate in this as well, and one of the people that we have this year is Jasmine Iona Brown. She’s been doing a lot of work painting memoriam murals, so it’s been really cool to get exposed to her works.

Write253 is one of the literary organizations that Garcia is referencing, and they get high school students, as well as kids in the Remann Hall juvenile center, to write and operate their own printing presses. You’ll be able to visit the Write253 booth and learn more about how they let these kids use old, beautifully tactile equipment to make their own prints, and how they foster a love of the written word.

Garcia is also quick to direct our attention to a study that was recently published by Americans for the Arts to determine the impact that the arts have on a city’s economy. We’ll let Garcia tell the rest, but the spoiler for Tacoma is that arts and commerce make great bedfellows.

“By having arts and culture in a community, it injects money into the economy,” says Garcia. “It’s actually a really simple model, and most of us can imagine going to a movie, a concert, or a play and, for your night out, also buying something at a restaurant.

“There was $168 million that got injected into Tacoma’s economy in 2022 alone,” Garcia continues. “So, there’s a big connection with business owners that arts and cultural organizations and artists themselves have, but don’t think about or utilize. In this case, it’s great, because we’ll see 100 artists in the Tacoma Armory, but our local businesses really should benefit from those people coming through.”

Garcia goes on to say that one of the missions of the Office of Cultural Arts and Vitality is to continue to foster this exchange between local businesses and local arts centers. To frame this in a straight-forward sense, Arts at the Armory is not only a great opportunity to meet local artists, but a fantastic opportunity to get some holiday shopping done.

Fill the coffers of local creatives, enable them to keep creating, perhaps grab a drink or a meal at one of the many bars or restaurants within arm’s reach of the Tacoma Armory, and repeat as many times as it takes for everyone to understand that Tacoma becomes a far stronger whole when we combine our individual strengths. It might sound like a given, but sometimes those need hammering home.

Any artists who missed out on this year’s Arts at the Armory can start getting their work together for the spring, when admissions will start being taken again. But, any artist reading this, we advise that the friends and colleagues you’ll meet at Arts at the Armory make this a must-go, no matter what. And everyone else? We promise there’s beauty to be found wherever you turn at Arts at the Armory.

Arts at the Armory

November 11-12
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Tacoma Armory, 1001 S Yakima Ave, Tacoma

Free, All Ages


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