Tacoma, from gritty to glass balls, poetry and arts

One thing outsiders first notice about Tacoma is that we love hidden, serendipitous, even accidental things.

Most cities prominently display their attractions; Paris has its Eiffel Tower, Seattle has its Space Needle and Tacoma has. …

Well, Tacoma has recurring treasure hunts — Monkeyshines once a year, Beautiful Angle posters each month and unexpected and beguiling art and poetry in odd corners of the city.

I love this coalescence of tradition, art and public expression.

Some is officially sanctioned by the established art community, but much is not.

Hand-blown glass balls, graphically compelling posters and improvisational poetry on city walls is quite a philosophical leap for a town previously defined as ‘gritty’.

But Tacoma, as visitors soon learn, is full of surprises.

Who would have expected, just a few years ago, that Tacoma would ever have a museum district? Or a theater district? Or School of the Arts or a University of Washington Tacoma? Or its own forum for TED (technology, entertainment and design) Talks?

Somehow, when many of us weren’t looking, Tacoma has become a town defined by performance and the arts.

The Tacoma School District, long struggling with perceptions, and realities of being described, not long ago, as a ‘drop-out factory’ has developed Science and Math Institute and the School of the Arts as some of the most innovative (and successful) programs in all of American public education.

Since Tacoma now has a high school dedicated to the arts and another dedicated to math and the sciences, perhaps it’s time to consider a school that respects and builds on (literally) our hands-on, wood-based, Craftsman tradition reflected in many of our historic neighborhoods.

How many cities can boast neighborhood after neighborhood of beautifully designed (and lovingly restored) crafted bungalows and post-Victorian homes?

Many of Tacoma’s historic homes had glorious stained-glass windows. A few still remain.

A high school program with an emphasis on craftsmanship and stained glass would be the perfect merger of past and present, public and private, hand-crafting and high-tech.

It takes some looking to find (or develop) some of these things, though some have been in front of us all the time, and some are joyful discoveries.

Did you know, for example, that Tacoma has a Sister Cities program?

Many cities have this, but did you know that Tacoma has a film festival (usually free) that features films from those host countries?

For many obvious reasons our current Sister Cities are primarily around the Pacific Rim, but I think we need at least one in Great Britain: Liverpool.

Tacoma and Liverpool are both port cities with a strong Second City complex, and both have a gritty hard-working reputation and a solid musical heritage (Liverpool’s signature band is a bit more well-known than ours).

Tacoma is changing at a pace and in ways we can barely keep track of.

As the Arts and Crafts era writer William Morris put it, “The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.”

Tacoma is a very different place than it was 20 or 30 years ago. It will be even more different in the next 20 or 30 years.

Steering, preserving and protecting our city is the work — sometimes delightful and sometimes discouraging — of all of us.

We all have our own ideas, visions, abilities and interests. This is our city, and like few cities in the country, if not the world, we can all make a difference.

There’s an old saying that home is the place we love more than we love ourselves. If such a thing is even possible, you have truly found your home.

M. (Morf) Morford is a former reader columnist. Email him at mmorf@mail.com.