From public art and sculptures set back from Yakima Avenue to local businesses with handmade products, downtown Yakima is a hub for creativity.
Some local art leaders want to cultivate this further, creating a pedestrian area full of art and cultural activities called a creative district.
The Yakima Arts Commission is leading the effort, hosting community meetings and seeking input from residents and business owners as it puts together the official application that goes to the state arts commission.
Heath Lambe, local commission member and curator of the Yakima Valley Museum, wants you to imagine this the next time you spend an afternoon or evening in our downtown: a street musician serenading pedestrians with sweet notes, a plein air artist, that captures precious moments and portraits or a vibrant neon walkway that lights up the night.
All are potential activities or exhibits that could be included in the area plan.
“It’s just that as you walk around downtown, we have tons of activities going on, and it makes you excited to go downtown,” Lambe said.
Here’s what you need to know about creative neighborhoods and what one might look like in Yakima:
What is a creative district?
The Washington State Creative District Program is a way to recognize and formalize areas of creative, cultural and economic activity.
Creative districts are walkable areas certified by the state arts commission, ArtWA, as places for people to enjoy the arts and culture of the community, according to the commission’s website.
Neighborhoods must be in a contiguous geographic area, accessible to pedestrians, have a clearly defined concentration of artistic and cultural activities, and a clearly defined brand. They must also be officially recognized by the local government.
ArtsWA certified its first creative district in 2018 and has 11 certified creative neighborhoods across Washington: City of Edmonds, Chewella, Olympia, Langley, Twisp, Port Townsend, Tenino, Issaquah, Rainier Valley, Bainbridge Island and South Columbia in Kennewick.
Why creative district?
Lambe said the possibility of a creative district in Yakima was first brought up before the pandemic, but the Yakima Arts Commission and partners are reviving the idea.
“We have a road map here that seems to work in other cities that I think we can use to make our downtown as fantastic as possible,” he said.
Benefits include redevelopment of public assets downtown, increased tourism and better livability, according to Lambe.
“I mean there’s so much already. It just allows the city to put a framework where we can put it under an umbrella and market it statewide and then really start to use it as a way to (enhance) tourism in Yakima,” he said.
Similarly, Yakima Arts Commission Chairman and Larson Gallery Director David Links said the area could bring increased tourism and local dollars to support local creative industries.
“This is really good for the future of Yakima,” Links said. “It helps us grow.”
He said it could also encourage the development of underutilized downtown spaces and possibly the creation of artist lofts or live/work housing.
Creative districts receive a $5,000 matching grant once certified, and participation in the program opens the district to grant opportunities. Lambe said that includes up to $45,000 for a capital project.
The Yakima creative district working map stretches from East Lincoln Avenue to East Spruce Street and from Fourth Avenue to Eighth Street.
It includes a number of businesses and arts or event spaces, from the Yakima Maker Space to Essencia.
“This is not just art. It’s a creative thing,” Lynx said.
ArtsWA recognizes around 85 different creative industries and around 80 different occupations that can be included.
Some creative businesses that fall within the proposed district include Capitol Theatre, Fourth Street Theatre, The Seasons Performance Hall, Yakima Maker Space, Leading Force Energy and Design, Collaboration Coffee, Ron’s Coins and Collectables, Orion Theatre, Northtown Coffee, Essencia, Single Hill , Kana Winder, AntoLin Cellars, 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 originally put it together, we made sure that it contained all of our public artwork that we have in the center of this neighborhood 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 spaces such as the market, which is being built on the grassy median area of the Yakima Valley Memorial Business Services parking lot along Yakima Avenue.
Links said later that there may also be ways to incorporate other creative industries outside of the original neighborhood area, such as the Larson Gallery or the Yakima Valley Museum.
While Lambe and other leaders are gathering feedback from community members, they are also preparing a formal application, budget and strategic plan for the district.
Creative districts must have an annual budget of $20,000, according to ArtWA’s website.
The city has not allocated any money for the project, and Lynx said the plan is to solicit donations from local businesses and organizations.
The strategic plan will provide an overview of the development and expected activities for the first three to five years in the district.
Lambe said the plan also needs to align 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 said he hopes those steps will be completed this year.
The city took a step to support the creation of a creative district in June, but will have to sign off on the idea again before the district can be certified. Lambe said the city will likely also need to provide someone to act as a staff liaison.
If the area is certified, Lambe said it would initially be overseen by the Yakima Arts Commission before transitioning to nonprofit management.
He said that model is preferred — and has been 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’re putting it in step. We’re giving it some legs and then turning it over to a non-profit to run and run and just make (it) better.”
The discussion about revitalizing downtown Yakima may remind some of the plaza plan that was killed by voters in 2018.
Lambe said the creative district is different from this project.
“The biggest problem with this square, as I understand it, was the lack of parking. It doesn’t affect that,” he said. “It’s a way to just focus on arts and culture in our downtown to make it a destination.”
But memories of that project are part of the reason the group took the time to listen to community members early in the planning process. Lambe said he wants the district to come from the community, not top-down.
“The key thing here is engaging the community on the front end of this 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 area’s strategic plan — a sculpture garden, a neon walkway or mosaic artwork from the Tieton Mosaic, to name a few — but he wants to hear from members of community what they want. An important part of that is hearing from the Yakama Nation’s Latino communities and neighbors, he said.
“The more input 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 reach out with questions or concerns by emailing [email protected]