Spokane's Garland District a vibrant arts destination for tourists, locals alike

The area’s business district is home to a vast array of murals and street art, which originally appeared to discourage graffiti tagging.

SPOKANE, Wash. – Spokane’s historic Garland District is a haven for artists and small business owners alike, with many of its residents hoping to turn the area into a destination neighborhood.

The area’s business district is home to a vast array of murals and street art, which originally appeared to discourage graffiti tagging.

Julie Shepard-Hall, president of the Garland Business District organization, said the murals are effective. Many line the alley between Post and Monroe behind her business, ZipperZ, and appear on the walls of different buildings.

“We get tagged so much back here and they haven’t touched the art,” Shepard-Hall said.

She hopes that homeowners will allow artists to paint their fences and garages someday in hopes of turning the “art alley” into a destination for Spokane natives and tourists.

Spray-paint artist and Garland resident Daniel Lopez is one of the most frequent contributors. The California native said he has always been an illustrator.

“Everything I do is with spray-paint and I grew up with it,” Lopez said.

When Lopez moved to Spokane alone over four years ago, he took a job as a dishwasher.

“To be honest, I started doing this street art stuff because I felt super forgotten and alone. It was the only way I could kind of just say, ‘Hey. I’m here,’” he said.

Much of his work delves into personal experiences. His spray-paint murals in the district include portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Van Gogh, a swan, and a heart bleeding balloons, to name a few. He often tags his works “Godfitti.”

“Sometimes I’ll walk out and Daniel will have painted. Things just pop up,” Shepard-Hall said.

“His work is thought-provoking,” she added.

Lopez also works to inspire young artists by sharing his story at local schools. Shepard-Hall is continuing this artistic activism. She secured a $2,000 grant from the Spokane Arts Commission to send four local artists to Excelsior Youth Center to act as mentors and collaborate with at-risk youth.

Shepard-Hall is the driving force behind revitalization of the area apart from artwork, too. Four years ago, she applied for a grant to hire help to design a new plan for the area.

“We need to keep it [the neighborhood] vibrant in order to keep our businesses open,” Shepard-Hall said.

Karen Mobley moved to Spokane in 1997. Now she works with Spokane Arts, and teaches children’s workshops, drawing and painting at Spokane Arts School housed in the Garland District. 

“There’s probably more arts-related activity in a relatively short distance than in any neighborhood,” she said.

There are about 80 businesses in the district, including consignment stores, collectible shops, a bike shop and a record store, Shepard-Hall said. The neighborhood is also home to iconic Spokane landmarks, including Mary Lou’s Milk Bottle, Ferguson’s Fountain Café and the Garland Theater.

The district also hosts unique events, including the Garland Street Fair in August. Shepard-Hall said she and the fair’s committee have tried to gear the event toward art vendors who make their own products. Planning the fair takes seven to eight months.

The second annual Pub Crawl, featuring live music and drink specials at the district’s host of bars, will also take place in the district on St. Patrick’s Day. In June, the district will adopt Street Music Week, where musicians will play and donate proceeds to Second Harvest.

Mobley said the district is quickly becoming a scene for music and nightlife, with bars like Brown Derby. When the weather is warm, musicians will play on the bar’s back patio.

“There’s more concentrated effort with some of the neighbors…to become more of a destination than a neighborhood service center,” she added. “It’s become a place with a true identity as a neighborhood.”

Shepard-Hall believes there is more room for growth. Her goals include cleaning up the neighborhood, repaving the "art alley" and continuing to make the area easily accessible to walkers.

“We are creating a family-friendly, diverse and interesting place,” she said.

She is encouraged by the younger population, whose members are bringing new life to the area by opening small businesses, like KJ Pottery Studio on N. Lincoln Street, she said. 

“We just continue to evolve,” she added. 

Shepard-Hall has a deep love for the Garland District. But she knows she is not the only Spokane resident who holds fond memories of the area.

“A lot of people have a lot of heart for the Garland,” she said. 

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