From public art and sculptures set back to local businesses along Yakima Avenue with handcrafted products, the city of Yakima is a central place for creativity.
Some local arts leaders want to cultivate it, creating a walkable area called a creative district full of arts and cultural activities.
The Yakima Arts Commission is leading the effort, holding community meetings and seeking input from residents and business owners while putting together a formal application, which will go to the state arts commission.
Heath Lambe, a local commission member and curator at the Yakima Valley Museum, wants you to imagine the next time you spend an afternoon or evening in our downtown core: a street musician with walkers with sweets, a plein air painter capturing precious moments. and paintings, or a vibrant neon alley that lights up the night.
All are possible activities or performances that can be included in the plan for the district.
“So, you’re walking through downtown, we have a lot of activity going on, and it makes you excited to go downtown,” Lambe said.
Here’s what you need to know about creative districts and what they might look like in Yakima:
What is the Creative District?
Washington State’s Creative Districts program is a way to identify and formalize areas of creative, cultural and economic activity.
Creative districts are walkable areas certified by the state’s arts commission, ArtWA, as places where people can enjoy the community’s arts and culture, according to the commission’s website.
Districts should have a clearly defined concentration and a clearly defined brand of walkable, artistic and cultural activities in a close geographical area. They should also be formally recognized by the local government.
ArtsWA certified its first creative district in 2018, and there are 11 certified creative districts across Washington: Edmonds City, Chewelah, Olympia, Langley, Twisp, Port Townsend, Tenino, Issaquah, Rainier Valley, Bainbridge Island and South Columbia Kennewick.
Why Creative District?
Lambe said the possibility of a creative district in Yakima was first raised pre-pandemic, but the Yakima Arts Commission and partners are renewing the idea.
“We have a road map here that seems to be working in other cities that I think we can leverage to make our city great,” he said.
Benefits include redevelopment of community assets downtown, increased tourism and better quality of life, according to Lambe.
“I mean, there’s already a lot going on. This allows the city to set a framework where we can put it under an umbrella and market it across the state and then start using it as tourism (improvement) in Yakima,” he said.
Along similar lines, David Links, chairman of the Yakima Arts Commission and director of the Larson Gallery, said the district would increase tourist and local dollars supporting local creative industries.
“This is really good for the future of Yakima,” Lynx said. “It helps us grow.”
He said it could encourage the development of underutilized spaces downtown and, possibly, the creation of artist lofts or live/work housing.
Creative districts receive a $5,000 matching grant upon certification, and participation in the program opens the district to grant opportunities. Lambe said up to 45,000 dollars will be included for capital projects.
The action map for Yakima’s creative district stretches from East Lincoln Avenue to East Spruce Street and from Fourth Avenue to Eighth Street.
It includes a variety of businesses and art or event venues, from the Yakima Maker Space to Asencia.
“It’s not just art. It’s anything creative,” Lynx said.
ArtsWA recognizes that around 85 different creative industries and around 80 different professions can be included.
Some of the creative businesses within the proposed district include Capitol Theatre, Fourth Street Theatre, The Seasons Performance Hall, Yakima Maker Space, Leading Force Energy & Design, Collaboration Coffee, Ron’s Coins & Collectibles, Orion Theatre, Northtown Coffee, Hill Esencia, , Kana Winder, Antolin Sellers, EZ Tiger, Crafted, Sewn, and The Tap.
Lambe said the map is not set in stone and is open to input and feedback.
“When we initially put it together, it was making sure that it had all of our public artwork that we have downtown within this contiguous map, as well as some of the major art industries that we have,” he said.
The map also includes Art in the Park, Windows Alive and event sites, such as the market under construction in the grassy beach area of Yakima Avenue in the Yakima Valley Memorial Business Services parking lot.
Lynx said later, there may be ways to include other creative industries that weren’t initially in the immediate area, such as the Larson Gallery or the Yakima Valley Museum.
As Lambe and other leaders gather feedback from community members, they are also preparing a formal application, budget and strategic plan for the district.
According to the ArtWA website, creative districts are required to have an annual budget of $20,000.
The city has not allocated money to the project, and Lynx said it plans to solicit donations from local businesses and organizations.
The strategic plan will show the expected development and activities in the district for the first three to five years.
Lambe said the plan also needs to be aligned with the city’s downtown plan, which is currently in the works.
The next steps also include a site visit by the state commission to review the district and its boundaries.
Lambe expressed hope that these steps would be completed this year.
The city took a step in June to support the creation of a creative district but must sign off on the reconsideration before the district can be certified. Lambe said the city will also likely have to assign someone to act as a staff liaison.
If the district is certified, Lambe said it would initially be overseen by the Yakima Arts Commission before being run by a nonprofit organization.
He said the model is preferred — and used in other communities — because it opens up other grant opportunities that the city might not qualify for.
“It starts with the city,” he said. “We get it up and running. We give it a few legs, and then turn it over to a nonprofit to manage and run and make it better.”
Discussions about revitalizing Yakima’s downtown may recall plans for a plaza killed by voters in 2018.
Lambe said that the creative district is different from that project.
“The biggest problem with that plaza, as I understand it, was the lack of parking. It doesn’t affect it,’ he said. “It’s a way to focus on arts and culture in our city to make it a destination point.”
But memories of that project are due to the group dedicating time to hearing from community members early in the planning process. Lambe said it came from the community and not from above the district.
“The key here is to get community involvement on the front end of it to make sure it meets everyone’s expectations so we don’t have the same problem,” Lambe said.
Lambe said he has some ideas for projects that could be included in the district’s strategic plan — a sculpture garden, a neon alley or pieces of mosaic art from Titan Mosaic, to name a few — but he wants to hear from community members about what they want. An important part of that is hearing from Latino communities and Yakama Nation neighbors, he said.
“The more participation we get from our community, the better off we’re going to be,” he said.
Lambe and Lynx have set up a webpage and Facebook page with information about the potential district, and people can contact [email protected] with questions or concerns.