Katie Patterson Larson: Art Therapist Turned Art Non-Profit Founder & President

Editor’s note: As founder/president of Art Salvage Spokane (the area’s first creative reuse organization, similar to upcycling) who also happens to be a mom of three, Katie always appears shockingly cool, calm, and collected. Managing plans and goals for her non-profit alongside her family responsibilities is anything but simple, as she shares with us, but not only does she make it look easy, she’s also generous with her insights and the lessons she’s learned in the process, as you’ll see. Originally, I met Katie through her husband, a former colleague of mine, and it’s been an utter delight to see Art Salvage take off in the last two years. -Dena

Name: Katie Patterson Larson

Where did you grow up?: Spokane

Where do you live now?: Spokane

Where can we find you and Art Salvage online?: Website, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest

Favorite Thing about the PNW?: Hmm…Growing up here, I don’t think I appreciated the nature, but I think it’s totally beautiful now. And I like being so close to what’s on the west side of the state, and to so many outdoor options, like lakes and wetlands.

How do you take your coffee, or preferred morning beverage?: Coffee, with lots of milk [editor’s note: Can confirm. Katie had this exact drink during our conversation]. 

How do you like to take notes?: I love handwriting, I have a million notebooks where I keep lists and plans and sketches.

Favorite PNW season?:  I really love the spring. It’s so invigorating to go out there and clear away the dead leaves and see everything growing.

How do you protect yourself from the rain?: Raincoat, a hood, plus mittens and hats. I like the cold, but I just don’t want to be cold.

Aside from Art Salvage, what other passions do you have?:  I use a lot of my creativity in cooking, baking, gardening and preserving foods. I don’t really have a lot of time to make art myself these days, I end up doing all these other tasks, like newsletters and fundraising and getting a project ready for other people do. I do get some creativity out by thinking through those processes and getting materials ready, though. And, I love that I’m physically handling art materials and sorting and organizing.

Can you tell us how Art Salvage went from “this is a good idea” to “I’m going to do it”?: Part of it was having that feeling of, “I want to make art, I want to do something with other people in the community, so what’s an avenue of being able to do that?”

Originally, I think what was holding me back was was just feeling like, “I can’t do this.” I could think through what it took to start a business or start a non-profit, and I didn’t have all the skills for all of those things. I’d never managed a store, I’d never leased a space for business. But, if I could start with what I did know, which was telling people what creative reuse would be and starting some projects, then that felt doable. I guess part of that is hope, just hoping that it comes together, or that you can learn.

Six months in, I started realizing that it was going to work, and that it was going somewhere. My main goal is for Art Salvage to have a store. And, the other big piece that I’m most excited about is that programming piece; how do we get people involved to learn how to reuse in a creative way? That’s where my passion is.

What’s a normal day like for you, if there is one?: On weekdays, I take the kids to school and by 9:30 on most days I have time for myself. I usually go back home and start getting work done, or I have a meeting scheduled. Some days, I go back at noon to pick up my  preschooler, or two days a week, my mom takes her at noon so then I have a whole day and can get bigger projects done. [how many hours a week are you putting toward Art Salvage?] It depends. Some weeks, on a busy week, I’m working twenty hours for Art Salvage that are squeezed into all these little twenty-minute or two-hour chunks. And then, some weeks are less. Twenty hours sounds like so little, but as a parent it’s so much to squeeze that in, it feels like a ton.  I didn’t realize that, as your kids get older, they get more independent, and there’s more to do like school conferences and cross country, and more driving.

How has your work with Art Salvage shaped your view of the PNW and the women here?: It’s been a really great opportunity to meet a lot of women artists. I also think the non-profit’s shaped by the people that run it and organize it. And actually, right now, we’re an all-woman board, and I think that’s awesome. I love it. Everyone brings in a little bit different part of the community based on what kind of art that they do or other artists they know. [Did you plan that?] Not originally, but I think as I was inviting people to be on board and I realized we were all women, I was very cognizant of it. And one goal I have is that we represent the community and that we’re diverse, and I thought, “well, maybe that’s not very diverse.” And then I realized, there’s all sorts of boards that are all men, and so I’m okay with being all women.

What has surprised you about launching/leading an nonprofit?:  I knew that we would have to do marketing, fundraising, board development, the programming, all those different things…but realizing how much you could specialize in each of those categories was a surprise. I feel silly because I feel like like I should have known that, but it really is humbling to realize that people are really good at some of these things, and there’s so much to know. I think it opens up the possibilities for us that we can bring on more people that can be on our board, that we can work with.

There’s so much possibility as a community organization, too. Do we specifically target and help a certain group of people? Or a certain age? Or a certain neighborhood? There’s different models, too. There’s some people who do creative reuse like we do it, but they do it for profit. Some people do a lot of fine arts classes, some people only do upcycling. I think its bigger than I realized.

Has your definition of progress changed since you launched Art Salvage two years ago? If so, how?: I think it definitely has changed.  I had this overall feeling of, “oh, we’ll do this and this and this,” and as I got into it, I realized how much was involved with each step. So, it’s just being able to readjust and think, “well, what we’re doing right now is progress.” And, I love that when you have a small business, people ask, “have you done this, have you tried this, have you talked to this person?” Usually, everyone has good intentions and they’re such good ideas, but after a while, you’re like, “I only have so much time!” I think a lot of that is being okay with progress being at any rate. I have to be easy on myself, appreciating what I can get done, and feeling proud of what I do get done. I think there’s also a benefit to not moving too fast. Sometimes taking it slow is a benefit for the organization, and makes it stronger, too.

What brings you joy?: I’m realizing as I get older that my relationships with friends and family are what’s most important. Spending time together, being with friends, or being able to get away, are things that I do take a lot of joy in. Quality time with people is harder when you have kids and when you and your spouse are busy.

What’s the most cherished part of your day?: I love reading before I go to bed. Without being able to do that, I don’t sleep very well. There’s just something really fulfilling about being able to read and be a part of someone else’s story. I could skip a cup of coffee or just find one later in the day, but that’s the part of my daily routine I feel like I depend on. 

How do you motivate yourself when you’re low on inspiration?: Usually when I’m feeling low or tired, and it’s hard to feel motivated, there’s probably a reason. Sometimes it’s just about sitting down, starting somewhere, and knowing that once I start, I’ll feel energized. I know it’ll pass. [you make it sound so easy!] It’s not, it’s so not! When you work for yourself, and you’re the one in charge of all that, it’s really a daily struggle. I like having the feeling of accomplishment, though. So once I start, I don’t really want to stop. It’s hard to just do a tiny piece. I want to feel like I accomplished something.