Random Thoughts: Romancing the City

Illustration by Chris Bivins

A decade ago a visitor got a glimpse of Tacoma. That’s where the story begins.

Potential is a courtship; an attraction between two parties that may or may not come to a permanent partnership. Like courtship, it is heady and electric. Potential is not always intrinsic to either of the parties involved. It must be connected to imagination — a brain force that can take the raw material and envision it into the future.

My courtship with Tacoma began 10 years ago. Visiting relatives prompted an excursion. My husband noted that the Washington State History Museum was celebrating its grand opening. This piqued our interest and we drove down from Seattle, admired the museum and had our first glimpse of downtown Tacoma. The city winked at us.

The museum was beautiful. Along with the Union Station Federal Courthouse and the University of Washington-Tacoma campus, this investment represented community commitment and visioning for a future that hadn’t quite arrived. Yet, what was already realized enabled us to squint at the fractured bones of undeveloped historic architecture along Pacific and envision the buildings restored and bustling.

We thought, if these government institutions are betting on Tacoma, there must be momentum here that could really catch steam. Over the next couple years, we returned to Tacoma often, typically drawn by the stellar exhibits at the Tacoma Art Museum. Sometimes there was a new restaurant. We would eat there and imagine becoming regulars. The city would flirt with us and we would flirt back.

This romance is the lifeblood of creativity, a stage where idea and imagination have no limits. Where potential isn’t encumbered by lack of skill, financial burden or waning initiative, which are often the slayers of a good idea and can bring a courtship to an end.

We drove around town and saw neighborhoods with attractive housing stock and yards. Surprisingly perhaps, as visual artists we were not looking for dramatic loft spaces or warehouses. We wanted a house we could afford to purchase that had some land for dogs and trees and room for studio space. Our courtship began to feel serious when we contacted a realtor and made the decision to move to Tacoma. We took the leap before we had work here, our attraction so strong we were willing to commute as long as necessary.

At each house we visited, we scanned the upper floors and headed straight for the basement. A full-sized, unfinished sunlit basement with high ceilings was the selling point for the house we decided on. We marched down the wooden basement stairs and found we could stand up tall. We walked through, decided where our tools and materials would go, then marched back up the stairs and put an offer down.

That will be eight years ago in October. We are definitely in a committed relationship with Tacoma. As in every good relationship, there are many opportunities for potential to realize itself and for sparks of excitement to ignite. There is stability in commitment and a platform from which to nurture potential, to provide the attention it needs to become something real.
Our relationship with Tacoma has enabled us to produce artwork, have a child, be an active part of our community, contribute to the development of the city, make friends, plant a load of trees and live a good life.

The Washington State History Museum is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Now when I go down the street to celebrate, I don’t have to squint to see what Tacoma can be: it is actively in the process of becoming. The collective courtship between Tacoma and a multitude of suitors like me has manifested a remarkable vision. I can visit the History Museum, walk across the Chihuly Bridge of Glass to our sparkling waterfront and the Museum of Glass. I can visit art galleries and shops, go to Tacoma Art Museum’s new home. And ever hungry for new experience, I can choose from many different downtown restaurants.

But what I love most about Tacoma is that there is still so much potential. As a creative person, I thrive on it — hope and possibility. Potential is a magnet for visionaries. Where there is potential, there is opportunity. It’s exciting to be part of a city that has evolved so much in the time I’ve been here. I can’t wait to see how the view continues to change. And how a protracted courtship deepens and evolves.

Amy McBride is a Tacoma artist, wife and mother. She shares her discoveries of the city with her husband, Otto Youngers, a sculptor, and their son, Oliver. She is arts administrator for the City of Tacoma.