Why Neon?

In order to throw a remarkable fundraiser, Spaceworks asked local event-planner-extraordinaire Lisa Fruichantie to be our event consultant. Lisa knows how to tell a story, and she knows how to throw a legendary party! The following paragraphs are Lisa’s remarks on how she came to realize that the art of neon can be a powerful metaphor for the impact of Spaceworks Tacoma.  

Downtown Tacoma on Pacific Ave. looking north – 1972


By Lisa Fruichantie, Spaceworks’ 2016 fundraiser consultant

In considering a theme for Spaceworks’ first major fundraiser, I was pondering ideas that would capture the creativity and transformation of our city, that would be a metaphor for vibrancy, and that would showcase all the amazing talent we have.

Having graduated from being an admirer and supporter of Spaceworks Tacoma, to be being an involved participant as a local artist, to consulting on their small private fundraiser in 2015 – lingering was the knowledge that their organization’s next step was to host a large public fundraiser to expand their fundraising efforts. The challenge was how to do so while still holding on to the integrity of highlighting the arts and artists first, while educating participants and donors of Spaceworks’ need to ask the community for support. There had to be a cool factor. Something deliciously enticing.

I admit it, I am an avid podcast listener. As a creative myself, I spend many hours alone listening to one podcast after another while I puzzle through my projects. Last December, I was in the middle of designing and constructing costumes for an upcoming dance performance for the series ‘Tacoma Spaces’. As I worked I began pondering the theme of Tacoma Spaces and reflected on the artistic renaissance our city has taken and how this transformation now surges with an injection of new energy.

At that moment I was listening to 99% invisible, by Roman Mars, based out of Oakland, California, the episode they were featuring was titled “Tube Benders” about the art of neon. Now, before I go into my lightbulb moment, I will preface this by saying that for years now I have preached to any who would listen about how in love with Oakland I am and how much the City of Tacoma could and should learn from a city that mirrors our beautiful struggle. Tacoma and Oakland are like twins raised in different households, I will spare you from the tangent many others have been subjected to over the years but at this very moment when I heard Roman Mars’ description of Oakland past and present, my imagination was joyriding between my time spent in Oakland and my memories of Tacoma in the 90’s and early 2000’s, prior to organizations like Spaceworks creating visible change to the energy and attraction of our downtown.

So there I was, surrounding in blankets of white stretch fabric, playing with light and ironing on fractal patterns of safety tape onto these costumes when I had my very own light bulb moment. I realized that a beautiful neon sign really was the most perfect metaphor for Spaceworks as an organization. Take a step back and remind yourself the way Tacoma used to look, empty streets, severely cracked sidewalks, smelly, signs in nearly every building and window pleadingly advertising available space. Downtown was someplace you passed through, it was not a destination. Now, picture an old neon sign completely unlit, a rough and raw industrial frame juxtaposed behind slender glass curvature of color. Once you power that sign it instantly turns to something otherworldly. Bright, vibrant, beautiful and that neon glow can be seen at a remarkable distance. That image of illumination truly captures Spaceworks slogan “Vacancy to Vitality”. Spaceworks curating our vacant storefronts, organizing art shows and entrepreneurs, Artscapes murals decorating our abandoned architecture brings the same instant visibility to our downtown core. Truly bringing light to dark places.

Envisioning neon as the theme to Spaceworks’ annual fundraiser, my mind was racing. Would this event attract artists I admired like Galen Turner, a local neon artist, to participate in this event? Would Spaceworks’ Creative Enterprise participants be commissioning neon signs for their businesses based on the success of this event? Could we grow this theme? What could future sub-themes become? Can we cultivate a love for the art of neon and actually use this as a tool to brighten our city? Then I had it – “NEON: Making Tacoma Brighter”. It married my ideas of what Spaceworks is and does, with the art of neon and provides that metaphor to grow on.

Some of you may be aware that neon has another history in this town that was not always supportive of the creative class. Little did I know, that once I pitched my ideas to Spaceworks that I was inadvertently digging up some serious longstanding history in our city between the art of neon and the City of Tacoma. I discovered that this event, NEON, is more than just Making Tacoma Brighter, the art of neon is truly seeing a new day in the City of Destiny. On that note, I invite you to join us on Saturday, June 11th to hear Amy McBride, founder of Spaceworks and Arts Administrator for the City of Tacoma, speak more about the history of neon, and Spaceworks Manager Heather Joy discuss the future of Spaceworks.

Bust out those day-glo socks and white trousers, 80’s attire highly encouraged. The party starts at 6pm, I’ll see you then!

For tickets & details visit