Alley art gallery adds to Uptown’s quirky charm

The Uptown Shopping Center, Richland’s quirky midcentury retail hub, is being transformed into a living gallery courtesy local artists and business owners.

Gallery in the Alley is a city-supported initiative of the Uptown Business Improvement District to clean up alleys and bring in professional artists to paint murals.

The district has a $19,000 budget to pay for marketing, benches, a chalk art program, holiday lighting and the alley art program. The city recently contributed $2,000 to help with paint and other costs.

Artwork is vetted by the district and is as individual as the businesses that populate the Uptown.

The project is in its infancy, with about half a dozen murals in various stages of completion.

Real Deals, a boutique and home décor store facing Jadwin Avenue, was an eager participant, said Brittini Van Heel, who owns the business with her mother. They moved to the Uptown from Kennewick about three years ago.

While they didn’t have much input on the final image – a skateboarding scene with a giant lizard by artist Heidi Elkington – they’re thrilled by the attention the artwork attracts. The alley is a popular destination for students to have school pictures taken.

The artwork cuts down on graffiti as well.

“They don’t touch the art,” she said.

She’s eager to see more of the Uptown covered with artwork if it helps secure an art district designation that could be advertised from the freeways.

“We need to get the whole alley done,” she said.

Elkington is a Tri-City artist whose work is found throughout the community. She didn’t hesitate to join the effort when she heard about it. She grew up in Richland, skateboarding at the Uptown. She knew its breezeways and alleys intimately and leapt at the opportunity.

The mural behind Real Deal, titled “Atomic City,” is inspired by her experience and is a work in progress. She plans to finish it when the weather warms up.

“Painting murals is my jam. It’s what I love to do,” she said. She’s thrilled to see the Uptown transformed into a living gallery.

“Anyone would be into this project, making the alley a nicer place to walk around. The Uptown is tailor made to be walked around,” she said.

David Dickerson, who owns a piano store facing Jadwin, is another fan who said he welcomes the addition of murals to the alley.

The artwork builds on the center’s “official” murals, which adhere to a midcentury atomic theme.

The mural project, undertaken in partnership with the city, helps brand the shopping district with a formal color palette of blues, yellows, reds, browns, oranges and greens.

The murals are visible to drivers on both sides – George Washington Way and Jadwin Avenue. The art project tackles the less visible alley walls, the ones tucked between buildings.

Business owners expressed interest in extending the mural concept to their blank walls, said Gus Sako of Octopus Garden and chairman of the Uptown Business Improvement District.

Gallery in the Alley is a mostly volunteer effort with a small budget to help offset the cost of paint.

Sako said it is too early to say if the alley art is driving business to the center, but more visitors are strolling the alleys, a welcome development.

“Getting more people circulating through is always good,” he said.

The wall behind the former Amber Rose store sports a colorful mural with angel wings, painted by Cameron Milton, a Tri-City artist. The painting is situated so that visitors can pose in front – and they often do, Sako said.

That pleases Milton to no end. The alleyway project invites the public to engage and interact with art on its own terms. He’s eager to see more walls get painted and is preparing to paint peonies – his favorite flower – on a blank spot next to his wings.

Cameron Milton, a Tri-City artist, poses by the angel wings he painted in the alley at Richland’s Uptown Shopping Center. Gallery in the Alley is an emerging art destination that offers an interactive experience for visitors. (Photo by Wendy Culverwell)

Tagging each piece of art with a white bunny is another way to encourage visitors to explore.

“I like that aspect of it. It’s a community scavenger hunt,” Milton said.

Randy Bartoshevich, aka Barefoot Randy, is spearheading the gallery project.

A musician, he doesn’t own a business in the Uptown (Richland, he said, hasn’t lifted its cannabis ban), but he joined the Uptown board when he worked at Emerald of Siam.

He was inspired by a chance visit to Boise’s Freak Alley Gallery while touring with his reggae band. Freak Alley is an endlessly changing outdoor gallery and popular destination for tourists. He was so interested he went back to Boise to take photos.

The Uptown board was intrigued and so were local artists like Elkington and Milton, who were aware of Freak Alley and its potential to draw visitors.

The mechanics of Uptown’s approach are simple.

Business owners who are interested in artwork on their alley walls contact the board.

The board has the outside wall painted a base coat, creating a canvas for artists. Sherwin Williams is donating unused paint to support the project.

Bartoshevich connects with local artists willing to donate their talents in exchange for a small stipend. Artists develop a concept and once the board signs off, it gets painted. The results are eclectic.

“These aren’t a part of the (mural) theme. It’s to spur creativity. It’s a chance for (artists) to do their own thing,” Bartoshevich said.

Milton, the wings artist, appreciates the space to veer away from the 1950s theme.

One of the first gallery pieces was a swarm of graffiti-style hearts on the wall behind 1324 Jadwin Ave., once Benjamin’s Carpet One and now Legacy Jiu-Jitsu Academy.

Tri-City Music and a Papa Murphy’s Take ‘n’ Bake Pizza have murals and several walls have been prepared for art.

“We’ve got more spaces and opportunity,” Bartoshevich said. “The goal is to one day have the entire Uptown painted.”

At the end of the day, the Uptown’s alleys exist for a reason, so the gallery has to coexist with typical alley activities.

“There’s still garbage and deliveries, but people walk back there regardless. They’re taking pictures,” Bartoshevich said.

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