Ginger Ewing: The Arts Advocate We Need, Not That We Deserve
Editor’s note: When I was preparing to reach out to Ginger about this very profile, I was cautioned that she’s very busy, and that I shouldn’t to take it personally if we weren’t able to connect. Her advocacy with organizations like Spokane Arts and ArtsWA is making waves, and her work, like Terrain, and Window Dressing, is well-known and well-respected throughout the region. In fact, when I returned to Spokane in 2012 and attended Terrain that fall, it was one of the first times I remember thinking, “Wow, Spokane has changed.” And, we have Ginger (who, amazingly, I was able to connect with) to thank for that. – Dena
Name: Ginger Ewing
Where did you grow up: Cheney, WA
Where do you live now: Spokane, WA
What do you consider “home”?: There’s a point on I-90, where the road begins to crest overlooking the city of Spokane. Every time I travel that route, and see the city below, I inadvertently exhale and know I’m home.
Tell us about your career path: My career path has been rather indirect. I went to school with the intention of being a forensic anthropologist, and now devote my life to advocating for the arts.
What other passions do you have?: PUGS! All dogs, really. I also love to junk, daydream about interior design, and love to garden and go on walks with my boys (dogs). I could’ve also very easily had a career in environmental or social justice, or animal welfare.
What is a normal day like for you (if such a thing exists)?: The thing about running an arts organization is that every day is different, and there’s no such thing as 9-5. In some ways this is exhilarating as we’re always chewing on new ideas and new opportunities. On the flip side, I work every day of my life. Even on my recent honeymoon.
Favorite thing about the PNW?: The seasons. The incredible diversity of landscape. The friendliness of people. The connection of past and present that resonates within our buildings and architecture. The parks and lakes and rivers and…
How do you take your coffee?: As black as possible. Like, sludge on the bottom of my cup black.
How do you record info?: Mostly pen and paper. I somehow never took a typing class (whoops), and still type and peck, so it’s not a very efficient way of recording information for me.
Favorite season in the PNW?: I adore them all, but Fall. Hands down.
When you’re out, how do you protect yourself from the rain?: As warm of coat as possible. I swear, I must be part-reptilian. It’s not unusual to see me in a parka – even while indoors – and until about June.
Working in a creative field/in the arts can be intensely personal, and you’ve been doing it for years – how do you stay motivated and manage both the personal/professional sides of the work you do?: My motivation is my deep love for my city. That’s not to say I don’t have periods of time where I feel incredibly burned out, or incredibly tempted to walk away. How nice would it be to work 40 hours a week and leave work at work? But then, someone tells me they stayed in Spokane because of Terrain. Or started their own thing because of Terrain. Or feels connected to their community because of Terrain, and all of a sudden, I find myself more determined than ever.
In terms of managing personal/professional life, this is my biggest struggle. I’m married to Terrain – my husband is also a co-founder – and we live and breathe it every day of our lives. It’s our child. Or, at this point, our tween and we have yet to find an effective way to create this balance. If you have suggestions, please call me!
How has working in the arts shaped your perspective on community?: I often find myself fumbling as I try to explain the sentiment that the arts are the soul of a city. How do you properly describe that spirit? That feeling? I know the arts give us a sense of place. They give us identity. They humanize us and spark conversation. They connect us and have the ability to create greater understanding. They drive the economy and add vibrancy to our built environment. All of this makes for an incredibly powerful tool for building stronger, healthier communities.
And, vice versa; how has Spokane and the greater PNW shaped your views of the arts?: If you are from Spokane, you’ve most-likely been told that if you were going to be “successful,” or “have fun in your 20s,” you needed to do it anywhere else but here. This mentality has resulted in Spokane hemorrhaging its young and creative people for decades. However, when you take a look at why people are leaving. And the types of things the places Spokanites are fleeing to possess, the answer is clear…it’s quality of life. It’s music. It’s great food. It’s farmer’s markets and festivals. It’s the opportunity to work in the creative sector and have something to do after work. It’s independent theaters and galleries. It’s a hand-crafted cocktail, slam-poetry and public art.
The great news, is, this narrative we’ve been telling ourselves is changing, and therefore so is Spokane. Not only are young and creative people born-and-raised in Spokane choosing to stay, but transplants from other cities are also choosing to call Spokane home. And these people are doing incredible work. There is no doubt, the increasingly thriving arts and culture scene – and the individuals, organizations and employers behind this – are the single most important factor to why people are now choosing to stay in Spokane. This undeniable relationship between the arts and the health of a city, is one of the major ways in which Spokane – and the greater PNW – has helped shaped my view on the importance of the arts to a city.
How do you decide which projects to spend your time on?: Ha! I’m really, REALLY bad at saying no, so I’m not sure I have a great answer for this. However, as Terrain and Window Dressing have grown, we’ve always tried our best to be as nimble and responsive to what the community says it needs, or where we see a gap in opportunity. These two inclinations act as my compass when trying to decide what projects to take on.
How do you describe yourself when others ask? Intensely loyal (almost to a fault), stubborn, passionate, a perfectionist. Lover of life. Stress case.
What hidden talents do you have? In my younger years I was a fairly accomplished athlete. I ran in the Jr. Olympics. Was called the best defender (basketball) this side of the Cascades. Graduated with a .667 batting average, and still hold several track records.
How did you discover your passion for the arts and arts advocacy?: My passion for the arts was really born out of the desire to connect with and serve my community. Growing up, I defined serving my community as working with underrepresented and marginalized groups. Or, working for a cause tied to an acute need. And while this type of work remains dear to my heart, I clearly remember a shift in thinking about six or seven years ago. I started to recognize, that, just as noble, and just as necessary, was the creation of spaces and places where people felt they belonged. Where they felt their voices were heard. Where civic engagement takes place. And where connections were made. My mechanism, my tool, in trying to achieve this, is through art.
Tell us about hosting that first Terrain event back in 2008, compared to the most recent one. What has changed, what have you learned? What are you most proud of?
When we started Terrain back in 2008 we didn’t know how it would resonate. It was our hope, that we’d be able to create an event that brought people together, celebrated the cultural vitality of our city, encouraged connection and made people feel like they belonged.
Now, almost nine years later, the essence of that first Terrain remains the same, although what was meant to be a one-night-only, one-time event, has grown into something much bigger.
That first year 30 artists were represented. Last year, we had 250. 9,000 people now consistently show up in a single evening on the First Friday of every October.
We’ve added 2 more major annual events – Bazaar (an art market) and Uncharted (a partnership with the Spokane Symphony) – and are currently transitioning into a permanent space which will allow us to offer year-round programming via a 1,500 square foot gallery and 5,000 square foot performance arts space.
Terrain put $86,000 directly back into the pockets of local artists in 2016 alone. And we just added a storefront program – Window Dressing – which fills vacant buildings and unused spaces with short- term art installations and Creative Enterprise.
We’ve accomplished this largely as an all-volunteer organization (we just hired our first part-time employee 2 months ago!) which means all of the above was created by sheer will and determination, an INCREDIBLE group of dedicated Volunteers, and by individuals, corporations and organizations that have believed deeply enough in the work we’re doing to invest in keeping us going.
When I’m able to take a step back, and take all of this in, I’m incredible honored and humbled to have been a part of creating such a force within the community.
This journey has taught me Spokane is a city brimming with talent, a city willing to do what it takes to build the kind of place we want to call home. And a city willing to collaborate, co-conspire and fight to better the collective we.
What are people surprised to learn about you? I’m a true crime junkie. I grew up on Unsolved Mysteries and Robert Stack and used to recount murders I saw on past episodes for show-and-tell. I have a certification in forensics -hence, the original path of forensic anthropology – and go to bed every night watching Forensic Files, Murder Comes to Town, or something of the likes.
What do you love talking about at parties? Depends on who’s at the party! Ha! But I’m weird, I like taking politics and generally catching up on the lives of my incredibly talented friends.
Any big “wish list” or “bucket list” items that you’re focused on/looking forward to accomplishing? Traveling more. Seeing the pyramids. Finding ways to have enough time to enjoy life more.
What are the most cherished parts of your day? Early mornings. Cup of coffee in hand, preferably eating some sort of pastry. My boys (dogs) by my side. Preparing for a walk.
What’s your most ambitious career goal? Fundamentally changing our city’s relationship with and attitude towards art and creativity.