In a normal summer, Donna Taylor Mayo, who owns Of Water, Wind & Woods glass studio in Tenino, would spend her summer traveling to multiple art shows, festivals and events to sell her creations.

But this is no normal summer. 

With restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic closing large-scale gatherings, Taylor Mayo suddenly found herself without an outlet for her wares. And while she certainly misses the income, she said she also misses the other artists she would meet in her travels.

“It’s not just income, but for so many of us, it’s our connection to the rest of the artistic world,” Taylor Mayo said. “We get inspiration and connection and camaraderie at these events. We need each other and that interface with other people.”

With the help of some other Tenino artists, Taylor Mayo decided to create her own opportunity for artists to present their work to the public and meet other artists, just on a more local scale. Taylor Mayo’s art was actually borne out of figuring out how to adapt during hard times. She was living on the Hawaiian island of Kauai when the last recession hit and her graphic designing job was eliminated. She said she quickly decided that she needed to try something new. She took her interest in working with recycled glass and combined it with a bunch of books and she began creating art that she could sell for a price point most people could afford. This time around, she said she wanted to adapt not only to sell art, but to hopefully bring her community together.  

“With COVID, I’ve been doing a lot more art but I was really missing that interaction,” she said. “Once you make something, you want to share it with others.”

The Tenino Artisan Market opened in early July, with plans to be open for at least two more weekends in August. The outdoor market is located in the parking lot of Taylor Mayo’s workshop, located along Sussex Avenue, and is open to Tenino and Bucoda area artists. The first-ever event attracted three artists. At the third event on Saturday, their numbers had doubled and participants said slowly but surely people are starting to find them. Shoppers Doris Penfield and Margaret Colvin, both of Tenino, visited Saturday for the first time and said they found the artisan market a delight.

“It’s always great to shop local and see Tenino people,” said Penfield.

The Tenino Artisan Market is just one part of a larger artistic movement that has been at work in Tenino for the last few years. The Tenino Creative District was recently approved as an official creative district by the Washington State Arts Commission. It is the seventh of eight such districts in the state, George Sharp, program coordinator for the Washington State Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) arm of the Economic Development Council of Thurston County, who will serve as coordinator for the Tenino Creative District.

“The idea is we’re going to be marketing Tenino as a community that is a creative community,” Sharp explained. 

The Tenino Creative District is planned to bring together artists who are located anywhere within the Tenino zip code, which encompasses about 8,000 people. It is focused on not just traditional art forms but also more contemporary mediums such as computer programming and video game development. Sharp said first steps will include workshops for local artists on subjects including marketing and how to turn what might be a hobby into a business.

“The next phase of our project is to find out who is out there? What are they creating? What is their history and their story?” Sharp said. “We want to bring all the artists together and see how we can promote them.”

The long-term plan for the Tenino Creative District dovetails with one goal of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which aims to create a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly city. Situated just three blocks west of the Tenino Saturday Farmers Market, the artisan market members frequently point visitors to the downtown and farmers market, and vice versa. The first wayfinding sign for the creative district was put up on July 4, pointing visitors toward the stone mason shop and more are planned, Sharp added. Stew Waldrop of Creative Iron Works  is part of the first five-person commission that will oversee the creative district. He estimated he probably visit about 30 shows around the region in a normal summer. Along with sales from his Tenino storefront, Waldrop’s sales are his livelihood so he said he was grateful to have a local outlet. But he added the artisan market is a good way to get Tenino area artists networking and the public visiting the city. 

“It’s a chance to make friends and little money and to help the community by bringing people in to visit Tenino and see the arts here,” Waldrop said.

Beyond helping bring in visitors and stimulating economic growth, Maria Williams said she thinks focusing on the arts is good for the health of a community as well. The owner of the Tenino Bistro and Mia’s photos, Williams has created a gallery of local art on her bistro’s walls, as well as hosting art classes there. She said she wanted to be part of the artisan market because she saw value in bringing art to the community, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The value of creativity is part of how we, as humans, function, especially in a time of great anger and depression and anxiety,” Williams said. “To be able to come here and walk around, they get to not think about that for a little while.”

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