In her junior year, emerging artist Sophia Munic ’19 got a huge boost: Her application for a Spaceworks Tacoma Artscapes grant had been accepted.

She would get to fill two of the vacant storefront windows of the historic F.W. Woolworth building on Broadway with art installations that would be on public view alongside the work of more established artists.

Since 2010, Spaceworks has organized hundreds of temporary Artscapes throughout downtown Tacoma. Mixed-media installations pop up in empty storefront windows and giant murals bloom across concrete walls, then disappear, disassembled and whitewashed to be replaced by new works. The nonprofit organization offers stipends to Pacific Northwest artists with the goal of revitalizing the downtown area and giving artists an urban canvas. Sophia was elated to join their ranks.

“Any time anyone’s making something, that’s where communities form,” she says. “That’s something I’m really passionate about, seeing how people can support each other and learn from one another.”

Sophia applied for an Artscapes grant in summer 2017, not knowing if she had a chance of being accepted. She was studying abroad in Paris when she learned that Spaceworks wanted her to mount an installation in the Woolworth windows. Her excitement was tempered by pragmatism—now that she had the opportunity, could she actually do this? She contacted her sculpture professor, Michael Johnson, for assistance and applied for a university summer research grant to help her prepare.

I have these fur blobs. How do I hang them? How many do I need to make? What size do they need to be? Figuring out those obstacles was super exciting for me."

– Sophia Munic ’19

A double major in French and sculpture, Sophia had been introduced to soft sculpture through a “hard and soft” project in her sophomore metals class. Scoping out materials for the assignment, she discovered a “really soft and interesting” caramel-colored fake fur at a local shop. Though she didn’t end up using that material for the project, she was hooked. A year later, she revisited the hard-and-soft concept in another class, this time seeking out fake fur, specifically, but shifting from earthy tones to neons—pink, green, and teal. “It got me really excited. I love that with fur, it makes me want to touch it.” She knew that it should be the medium for her Spaceworks installation.

Sophia spent all 10 weeks of her summer research grant exploring patternmaking and patternless sewing, and creating fabric sculptures. “I took old scraps of fake fur and just started sewing them together, kind of at random,” she says. “That’s the most exciting part of art for me—that ‘Oh, I wanted it to look like A, but now it looks like B. How do I respond to that?’”

In September, Sophia was ready to start installing her sculptures in the Woolworth windows. Her vision was to fill the space with playful, otherwordly sculptures. “When we’re little, we’re so free to use our imagination,” she says. “We’re never afraid of being wrong. That fades away when we’re older, but for me, I feel like that’s very much alive.”

Once she landed on the concept, creating the installation was another challenge. “I had never had to think about how to make sculpture to fit in the specific dimensions of a space,” she says. “So I’m like, ‘I have these fur blobs. How do I hang them? How many do I need to make? What size do they need to be? Do I have enough time and money to do that?’ Figuring out those obstacles was super exciting for me.”

Through a process of trial and error, she found her way. “Art teaches you so much,” she says. “It teaches you how to time-manage, how to advocate for yourself, how to document your work, how to take and receive constructive criticism, how to listen, how to share a studio. You have to be incredibly financially responsible.”

But art isn’t only for the artist, and the value of public art, in particular, says Sophia, is the opportunity it affords community members to connect—with the work, with each other, and with themselves. “It’s an incredible way for you to process things and just be a human,” she says.

After months of preparation and hard work, Sophia stood inside one of the Woolworth windows in mid-September, hanging a series of large, brightly colored sculptures resembling furry, oversized polka dots. Outside, people strolling down Broadway toward the downtown farmers market paused to watch the city’s latest Artscape take shape, then continued on their way.


By Sarah Stall
Published Nov. 9, 2018
Photos by Sy Bean