Spring Campaign Artist Spotlight: Mark Anderson

Mark L. Anderson (Spokane) is Spokane’s third Poet Laureate. He grew up ten miles outside of Spokane Valley in the small unincorporated township of Mica, Washington where he started making stories and poems before he could even write, convincing his parents to write the words for him. In 2007, while studying psychology at Eastern Washington University, he happened upon a small poetry open mic night at the Empyrean Coffee House. He came back week after week and soon enough he was helping to organize the poetry event. Soon after in 2009, he co-founded the popular Broken Mic reading series. Since then he has gone on to tour nationally as a performance poet, applauded for his imaginative, expansive work.

We interviewed Mark about his relationship with risk and with Artist Trust, and about her hopes for artists in Washington State. Learn more about Mark and his work.

How did you first find out about Artist Trust? What was compelling to you about the work of Artist Trust?
I’ve known about Artist Trust for years, so I can’t be certain how I heard about it. I believe former Spokane Arts Director Karen Mobley pushed me to start applying for grants when I started running Broken Mic. I’ve applied a few times over the last several years, and it’s helped me get much better at the process of writing grants, which is a kind of writing I’ve definitely struggled at. So it’s very fulfilling to have been selected this grant cycle.

What has Artist Trust support meant to you? In addition to funding, how has the AT community been meaningful or beneficial to you, and to other Washington State artists?
In addition to funding, Artist Trust has been really important to me in helping me to learn about grants writing and how to take steps forward as a more professional artist. Artist Trust led a series of professional development-themed workshops in Spokane that have been really helpful. It can be difficult to learn how to take those steps, especially as an artist outside of academia, and Artist Trust has done a great job making that information more accessible to me and my community.

This spring, we’re focusing on the role of risk in artistic practice. What has risk meant to you?
I don’t think you’re likely to accomplish anything if you’re not risking a project’s failure. I know the most fulfilling performances I’ve had as a poet are those where I risked poems that might not connect with the audience, where there was a chance I’d fall flat on my face. And sometimes the performance does fall flat, but sometimes it leads to a better, more lasting connection.

What do you need to be able to take risks in your practice?
If you’re risking failure as an artist, you’ll have trouble risking enough to grow to the next level. But you have to be able to recover from the failures too. It’s no good if one misstep knocks you out for the count. Even as important as risking is having the ability to pick yourself up and try something new again.

How does support from Artist Trust and other organizations/communities make risk possible for you?
Having Artist Trust and other organizations that fund the arts really helps make it safer to take risks. If one small financial risk as an artist takes years to recover from, you’re not going to be able to take many risks, but organizations like Artist Trust really help cut down that time between falling flat on your face and getting back up for the next gauntlet.

What are your hopes for the future of artists in Washington State?
I’ve been very embedded in the promotion of arts in Spokane, and one of the goals I have for our growing community is to be more connected to the cities near us, to be not only a city’s arts community, but the focal point for the inland northwest’s arts community. I believe we’re able to accomplish more when we’re more connected to each other. As we’re growing, I’d really love to see Spokane become more connected to both central and western Washington. It takes a long time to develop a culture that knows how to connect to arts opportunities, and actively seeks them. I’ve seen a lot of growth in Spokane in the last ten years along those lines, but we’re still behind Seattle and the west side of the state in that way. Artists here are just learning how to seek out grant funding, and the steps necessary to advocate for it. I’d like to see some of the culture around arts outreach and funding permeate the whole state.

What would you say to someone who is considering a gift to Artist Trust?
It is not easy to create a career as an artist. That’s an understatement. Without funding from organizations like Artist Trust it’s close to impossible. But artists are vital to our communities flourishing, and by donating to Artist Trust you’re making it possible.

Washington State artists like Mark depend on taking risks, but making the jump requires a strong safety net. That’s where we can make a difference. Join our spring fundraising campaign now and support the future of artists across Washington State.