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Visual Arts in the Inland Northwest

Galleries, artists and events that inspire, delight and transport

By Abigail Thorpe

Snow flurries are flying, and winter has brought with it colder temperatures and silvery afternoons. The days of picnicking in the park and wandering local outdoor markets are far behind us, but there is still plenty to do here in the Inland Northwest.

Spokane to North Idaho boasts a lively visual arts scene, offering everything from renowned museums to artsy studios, and a host of entertaining and educational events highlighting both local and international artists in a variety of mediums.

Head out on a weekend or afternoon adventure into the warmth and welcome of a local art destination, and enjoy these winter days surrounded by the beauty and creativity of our Northwest visual arts scene. Reflect on paintings, drawings and photography from notable locals and renowned international artists alike, or enjoy the sculpture, ceramics, screen printing and textile creations that contribute to our lively art culture. While you’re wandering the museums, take the opportunity to stop and appreciate the unique and creative architecture that’s made its mark on the history of our towns and cities.

Whatever your day holds in store, you don’t have to travel far this season to enjoy the arts and culture of many styles and mediums from multiple generations of artists. Take some time to get out and explore the visual arts in your own backyard—maybe you’ll be inspired to create some of your own!


Visit a museum or gallery …

As the artistic and cultural hub of the Inland Northwest, Spokane offers an impressive number of museums, galleries and installations to explore. Particularly during the colder months, these inviting spaces are the perfect place to spend an afternoon and lose track of time.

A great place to start is an online visit to Spokane Arts. The nonprofit partners with many private and public entities throughout Spokane to build and support the arts and is a great resource for learning about art galleries, events, exhibitions and more going on in the city. They curate monthly exhibits in the Chase Gallery, located in Spokane City Hall, which is a must stop on the list of local galleries. The Chase regularly features various works—often by local artists—that engages the public and provides space for people of all backgrounds to share their perspective through art.

Located in the historic Browne’s Addition neighborhood of Spokane sits the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC). The largest cultural organization in the Inland Northwest, MAC offers collections and exhibitions that highlight and preserve the heritage of the Inland Northwest, including the largest collection of Plateau Indian art and artifacts in the world.

For a taste of the old and modern masters, head over to Gonzaga University’s Jundt Art Museum, which houses a permanent collection of more than 5,000 objects and features special temporary exhibitions. The museum features work by local, regional, national and international artists, and includes pieces from internationally renowned masters like Rembrandt, Goya, Picasso and Warhol.

Spokane is home to many smaller, private art studios and galleries that provide an intimate, up-close glimpse of the Inland Northwest’s art scene, where you can often meet the artists. Explore the city while you stop in at local art hotspots like Ben Joyce Studio, Bryan Oliver Gallery and the Christy Branson Studio and Gallery, which features the renowned artist’s wax works.

Local downtown spots like the Kolva-Sullivan Gallery and Liberty Building provide a space for local artists to display their work, making artwork that might not otherwise be displayed open to the Spokane community.

Join friends for a night out …

The ever-popular First Friday series organized by Spokane Arts is a fun (and often delicious) way to experience art throughout the city. Held on the first Friday of every month, galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, wineries and more open their doors to showcase local artists and performers, typically offering receptions from about 5 to 8pm.

A must-attend for art lovers and novices alike is Spokane Arts’ annual Winter Arts Tour held in February, which is a city-wide arts tour that showcases artists, neighborhoods and groups who are based outside of the downtown core, in addition to those within it. It’s like the ultimate First Friday—with so much to see, do and learn.

Catch a local’s view …

While you’re touring the city’s many art haunts, keep an eye out for the local architectural gems Spokane is known for. The Historic Davenport Hotel downtown is a masterpiece designed by Kirtland Cutter and built in 1914 in the Spanish Revival style. It was the first hotel in the U.S. with air conditioning and a central vacuum system.

Driving through the city, make note of several prime examples of Modernist architecture like Trogdon House, Avista Headquarters and Stephan Dental—works by notable architects like Royal McClure, William Trogdon and Bruce Walker, students of famous Bauhaus school of design founder and Harvard professor Walter Gropius.

And don’t forget to head across the Spokane River to the Spokane County Courthouse. Built in 1893 by architect Willis Alexander Ritchie, the courthouse is a breathtaking example of 16th century French Renaissance architecture.


A thriving local art scene …

Coeur d’Alene’s arts scene is just as alive and booming as its dining and entertainment offerings. Drive or walk the downtown, and you’ll notice a number of inviting galleries, numerous public art installations, and many opportunities to explore and find new local artists and talent—sometimes even while wandering with a glass of wine in hand.

The Coeur d’Alene Arts & Culture Alliance is the heart and soul of the arts community in Coeur d’Alene. Visit their website or stop by their location on First Street to take advantage of their many resources, including a directory of galleries, authors, musicians, photographers and more. The Alliance also spearheads several can’t-miss events and arts programs throughout the year.

December marks the final 2nd Friday ArtWalk of the year until it starts up again in April. Don’t miss wandering local galleries, restaurants and stores to explore local artists and enjoy some great company and tasty refreshments. During the winter months, Music Walks will take place every fourth Friday, offering a taste of local musical talent and some fun, cozy places to settle in with friends and family.

Coeur d’Alene is home to some fantastic local galleries. Art Spirit Gallery of Fine Arts is a beautiful, 4,000-square-foot space featuring high-quality, original artwork by regional artists, representing a variety of mediums. The relaxing, inviting space is the perfect spot to wander with a coffee in hand, and don’t forget to keep an eye out for regular exhibitions and curated shows the gallery offers.

Blackwell Gallery features exclusively local artists who work in various mediums in primarily contemporary and modern work. Visitors can enjoy everything from paintings, mixed media and pastel work to sculpture, metal and woodwork pieces. One of the main attractions of the gallery? The artists regularly stop in and visit, so visitors will have the chance to meet them in person and learn about their passion, method and inspiration.

While you’re downtown on Sherman Avenue, stop into The Coeur d’Alene Galleries. Since its opening in 1986, the gallery has been the go-to spot for 19th and 20th century western, wildlife and sporting art. You can find rare works by historical masters, along with unique pieces by contemporary artists.

See the sights …

Coeur d’Alene’s visual arts don’t just apply to its galleries and studios. There are several impressive historic structures that represent notable architecture and history over the years. On your way into downtown, stop by the original buildings of the historic Fort Sherman, established in 1878. You can view the original officers’ quarters, the ammunition bunker (which now functions as a museum) and the historic chapel—Coeur d’Alene’s oldest church.

Just off the main downtown drag, catch a glimpse of the old Federal Courthouse—the Coeur d’Alene Federal Building. Built between 1927 and 1928, the three-story building was designed in the Georgian Classical Revival style.


The inspiration of a local legend …

The town may be small, but it has a vibrant arts scene all its own. Sandpoint is often lauded as an arts town—and for good reason. Around 11 year-round galleries exist in the area of Sandpoint, Ponderay and Dover. Sandpoint’s picturesque setting, beautiful scenery and epic mountain and lake vignettes have made it an inspiration to many artists, including famous photographer Ross Hall, many of whose photographs you can spot around town.

The Pend Oreille Arts Council (POAC) is the powerhouse behind the local art scene, facilitating many local galleries and creating opportunities for local artists to present their work to the community. While several popular summer events like the annual Arts & Crafts Fair bring visitors to the area, winter is a special time to tour the local galleries and get a taste of North Idaho.

POAC’s principal gallery is in its home in the historic City Hall building of Sandpoint on Main Street. The gallery features rotating exhibits of local artists, so more than one visit is recommended throughout the season.

Continuing its trend of blending artwork with historic architecture, POAC also offers an evolving exhibit in the Old Powerhouse, a beautiful historic structure that is noticeable immediately after you exit the long bridge. You’ll find a unique selection of rotating community artwork here, along with a good selection of Ross Hall photographs.

Speaking of Ross Hall, stop by the Hallans Gallery in downtown Sandpoint to see a breathtaking collection of the renowned photographer’s work—one of the most extensive collections of vintage black-and-white photography in the Northwest. Hall’s iconic photos provide a unique and impressive glimpse into the landscape and life of the Inland Northwest. His ability to capture winter snow formations established him as one of the original photographers to elevate mountain winter imagery to an art form.

While you’re downtown, wander the other local galleries and shops, like Art Works Gallery. With so many creative spaces to enjoy, you can plan several weekend adventures out to explore Sandpoint and its thriving arts scene.

Foster Your Creative Side

Gain some inspiration from galleries and museums, and then try your hand at your own masterpiece! Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint all offer fun opportunities to encourage your creative side while enjoying time with friends.

What better way to gain inspiration and courage to create a masterpiece than with a glass of wine in hand? Head to a paint and sip at Pinot’s Palette in both Spokane and Coeur d’Alene to discover your inner artist’s heart—and feed your palate for wine. You can also get your creative juices flowing at The Paint Buzz in Coeur d’Alene, where wine and fun is the order of the day.

If you’re in Sandpoint, you’re still covered. Head on over to the Pend d’Oreille Winery and sample some locally made, award-winning wines while you learn from the best at their special paint and sip events, held occasionally throughout the year.

For a unique hands-on opportunity, check out Board and Brush in Spokane, where you can book a workshop with friends and create your own wood sign. You can save the mess of doing it at home and arrive ready to have fun, without having to do any of the prep work or buy materials.

Summers Glass in downtown Coeur d’Alene is a working glass studio that invites people to join and create their own fused glass, stained glass and jewelry. Open studio workshops on Thursdays and Saturdays offer hours for people to book a workshop, while specific special classes are offered throughout the year.

And these aren’t your only options. Throughout the Inland Northwest, there are lots of opportunities to keep busy this winter while enjoying some creative time in a warm and inviting atmosphere. If you haven’t explored all of the museums, galleries and studios that make this region such a rich visual arts experience, this winter is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Even if you don’t think of yourself as “creative,” trying a new experience like a sip and paint or stained glass workshop is a fun, non-stressful way to find your unique artistic strengths and to pass some time with friends in an unexpected way you’re bound to enjoy.

As you’re planning your artistic adventures, keep in mind that some galleries, museums and studios may be closed or operating at limited capacity or hours due to COVID-19 and health concerns. Always make sure to check ahead before you visit, and arrive with the necessary health precautions, like masks.

If galleries or museums are closed to the public, many are still offering virtual tours and events, so don’t give up! Get together with another art lover, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and explore different artists’ masterpieces right from the comfort of your home. There is so much to see in the arts community, so explore it in whatever way you can!

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