Taped to the register at Bend’s Workhouse
in the Old Ironworks Art District is an old tea bag tag that says “Together we can do what we can never do alone.” Owner Cari Dolyniuk told me that this little nugget of wisdom sums up the way that she and the other three shop owners at Bend's Old Ironworks Art District
approach their vision for the dynamic arts center they have created at the intersection of Colorado and Scott avenues. I visited their art mecca over two days last week to see for myself what can happen when a group of hard-working, retail-minded artists work together to establish an infrastructure that supports craft, fine art, creative innovation, and the local economy.
As I sat in Chad Fox's Cindercone Clay Center
, throwing woodchips for his longhaired shaggy dog named "Bird," we talked about whether Bend is ready to embrace a new model for art retail and production at a time when some fine art galleries struggle to keep their doors open. “This is definitely something Bend needs; especially at the rate we're growing," he said. "This could potentially be something that thrives and becomes something as society and culture as a whole changes.”
At this point, pretty much everyone in America knows that it's better—for the economy
, for the environment
, for families
, for your soul—to shop local. Sometimes things like convenience and ignorance stand in our way of making sound retail choices. But when I saw the huge scope of items for sale in the Old Ironworks District—everything from vintage-inspired swimwear at Stuart Breidenstein's shop Stuart's of Bend, to moon-faced incense burners at Cindercone, to upcycled jewelry at Workhouse—I realized that the neighborhood offers much more than fine art galleries and gift shops. The folks who work and sell in the Old Ironworks District are dedicating themselves to craft and handiwork by creating quality goods that people can use and enjoy for years.
Brendstein said, “It’s up to us to make useful things too, for artists and crafters to not just make cool gifts that get set aside.” He and the other shop owners—Dolyniuk, Fox, and Armature's
Tambi Lane—want to see their growing art colony manufacture quality goods that are capable of turning around the economy, both for artists and for the greater local economy. It makes sense when you realize that a dollar spent supporting a local artist
stays in the Bend economy; the artists themselves are local-minded folks and are more than likely to turn around and spend that money in the neighborhood too.
Bend is at a crucial moment that is both exciting (for those of us who moved here from someplace else) and unsettling (for the born-and-raised Bendites) as the city's population booms and industries take off. We have the opportunity to play a role in the shaping of our city's identity. Bend is internationally known as a place for beer, cycling, outdoor adventuring—why not work to make our fair city an art town too? Places like Sante Fe, NM
and Jerome, AZ
have built entire tourism industries around buying local art. Couldn't we use our dollars to vote for the kind of culture and economy we want our city to generate?
Next time you're getting a coffee and pastry fix at Sparrow
, take some time to check out the shops in the industrial brick buildings just across the courtyard. You'll be supporting local craft and the idea that Bend is a place where innovative, arty, weird, and cooperative ideas can thrive.