Thanks to a new project from Spokane Arts and musician Olivia Brownlee, a few local musicians and businesses are getting some time in the spotlight. The “Arts Mean Business” music video series tasked local musicians and filmmakers to write a song and film a music video in support of a local business of their choosing.
“The idea was to provide immediate work for local creatives to build these projects that will in turn spur additional attention and work for even more of our local creative community,” Spokane Arts director Melissa Huggins said in a news release. “Spokane Arts has been able to help direct over $645,000 of grant funds to deserving artists already this year, which is an important part of the creative ecosystem.
“Fundamentally, creatives want to work and have control over their own destiny, and the pandemic has taken away most of their usual work. The creative economy thrives when individuals, businesses and organizations hire local, so we’re reminding the community of the incredible pool of talent in our region.”
The project currently features four musicians and filmmakers, many of whom were to be involved in a Music Video Jams competition that was put on hold because of the pandemic, highlighting four local businesses.
Two music videos – ”Intermission” by Buffalo Jones, which celebrates the Big Dipper and was filmed by Michael Notar and edited by Liam Rush, and Brownlee’s ”No Man’s Land,” which celebrates the NW Mediation Center and was filmed by Miguel Gonzales and produced by LTNX Artes – can be viewed on the Spokane Arts YouTube channel and spokanearts.org.
Videos from musician Kathlyn Kinney and filmmaker Darrien Mack celebrating Spokane Boxing and musician Ayre and filmmaker Misty Grace Shipman celebrating Rain and Scratch will be released in the near future. All four videos were produced by Juan Mas’s Purple Crayon Pictures.
Two student videographers from Spokane Falls Community College created behind-the-scenes videos for each music video as part of a paid internship. Videos detailing the creation of videos by Buffalo Jones and Brownlee are also available to watch on the Spokane Arts YouTube channel and website.
The project came to be after Brownlee shared the music video for ”Don’t Tell the County,” the song she wrote about her parents’ barn, the Rockin’ B Ranch, with a group of artists, including Kinney, and said, “I really think artists should be supporting businesses at this point.”
“It’s been the reverse for so long, and artists are kind of the hinge pin of culture,” Brownlee said. “Their job is to reflect their immediate environment and at a time of local businesses are struggling so hard. Artists are struggling, too, but we have an asset that most businesses don’t.
“Our beautiful things are our own marketing. As a gift to our environment, the place in which we live and the businesses that we admire here, why wouldn’t we start supporting our businesses with our assets, which is our craft.”
The artist group suggested Brownlee pitch the idea to Huggins, and, with funding from Spokane Country CARES Act dollars administered by Greater Spokane Inc., the project was a go. The musicians and directors then had just a few weeks to write a song and film a music video.
In her “Arts Mean Business” music video, Brownlee is seen working up the nerve to visit the NW Mediation Center before finally making it inside and speaking with someone. These scenes are interspersed with scenes of Brownlee exploring a wooded area in Airway Heights.
Brownlee has history with the mediation center. Executive director Leslie Ann Grove is a family friend and someone Brownlee knows from the music scene, as well. Grove suggested Brownlee take basic mediation training a couple summers ago and then offered her a job as administrative assistant, a position she still holds.
“Kathlyn and the other girls in the group and I had lots of conversations about the ethical implications about what is OK for the give and take to be between the artist and the business, and we’re still working out a lot of that ideology and language,” Brownlee said. “But Kathlyn ultimately was like, ‘You’re both a part of the same culture, and what was meant to be done with this whole project was to develop cultural identity, not just for the artist.’ … That whole piece of cultural identity and the virtuous loop and people helping each other and supporting each other is the core of this entire thing.”
All videos were filmed under strict COVID-19 protocols as approved by the state, with a designated COVID-19 supervisor present at each filming session. A portion of the PPE needed for the video shoots was donated by Greater Spokane Inc., and additional PPE was provided by Spokane Arts.
Brownlee appreciated the time limit and COVID-19-related restrictions, calling back to something a former professor used to say: “Creativity flourishes under the tightest of constraints.”
“It’s really hard to think outside the box when there is no box, so finding these creative solutions to the restrictions that COVID places on the entire working world, I would say, is part of an artist’s job inherently.”
While the first round of “Arts Mean Business” features four music videos, Brownlee hopes the series turns into an annual, grant-funded event that brings more attention to local musicians and businesses.
“We’re performing a community service, and, really, what we’re doing is word-of-mouth advertising,” she said. “You can enjoy the art by itself, but if you want, you can go visit the business and see the people that made it and ask them why they did it because they’ll have a story for you.”