By Gale Hemmann
Picture this: You are strolling through Tacoma’s Cultural District at dusk, enjoying free admission to all the museums, walking over the glimmering Chihuly Bridge of Glass, and perhaps stopping to eat at a favorite restaurant (or trying somewhere new). Whether you are a serious art lover or just looking for a fun outing for the evening, Tacoma Third Thursday Art Mingle is the place to be.
On the third Thursday of each month, nearly 30 businesses in downtown Tacoma stay open late and offer special activities for the public.
Third Thursday Art Mingle offers a free and convenient way to see the city’s best art museums, galleries, and shops. The “Big Three” museums – the Museum of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum and the Washington State History Museum – all offer free admission from 5-8 p.m. Sponsored by the Tacoma Art Group, Third Thursday Art Mingle (formerly known as Third Thursday Art Walk) has been turning the streets of Tacoma into one big art gallery since 1982.
I recently hit the Tacoma Third Thursday Art Mingle to experience it first-hand. Pacific Avenue is the heart of Art Mingle, and it is a very walkable area, with ample sidewalks and parking. My first stop was the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM). Tacoma Art Museum is a top-quality regional museum, renowned for its excellent collections. Couples, families with kids, and adults of all ages wandered around the exhibits. Upstairs, kids, teens and adults all were having fun creating colorful masks in the Open Art Studio.
For those with kids, the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, just up the street from TAM, is another must-see destination. The museum is open extended hours on Third Thursdays, from 5-7 p.m. and is a hidden gem. Kids can play on one of the amazing climbing structures, make art, or try one of the many hands-on learning activities. They will love the elaborate forts and the giant “Voyager” play structure. The museum also offers Cafe Play, a kid-friendly eatery, to recharge after some play and discovery. The staff are welcoming and ready to show you around.
Just down the street, the Washington State History Museum offers a fascinating window into Washington’s past. Kids and adults alike will enjoy the lifelike exhibits. After looking around the museum, you can easily walk over the Chihuly Bridge of Glass just outside the museum entrance, which is lined with colorful glass sculptures illuminated in the twilight (be sure to look up to see the whimsical glass creations overhead). If you haven’t walked the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, this is a must-do for every Tacoma resident. It is truly one-of-a-kind.
The Museum of Glass is also definitely worth a visit. Featuring many works by Dale Chihuly, the Museum of Glass has given Tacoma a reputation as a world glass-art capital. The building itself is a work of art – as I approached the entrance, I stopped to take in the elegant glass sculptures floating on a fountain in the outdoor plaza, reflecting light and overlooking Puget Sound. The museum features the Hot Shop, a live glass-blowing studio where you can watch professionals hone their art from theater-style seats.
While these are the some of the major museums, Third Thursday doesn’t stop there by any means. You can check out the map of participating businesses, some clustered downtown and some in nearby parts of Tacoma. If you’re up for an adventure, I’d highly recommend checking out some of the smaller galleries, including the Throwing Mud Gallery (pottery) and The 253 Collective. The Tacoma Public Library Handforth Gallery and local universities also participate in Third Thursday, opening their art gallery doors and offering free admission.
If you want to grab dinner before hitting the art, convenient dining options abound. Pacific Avenue offers a number of creative and fun restaurants and cafes. I dined at Savor, a charming and affordable creperie that did not disappoint. The friendly staff, delicious food (I had an avocado-pepper jack crepe scramble), and fresh French press delivered to your table make it a pleasant place to start your evening. Another fun and budget-friendly idea is to grab bubble tea at Bubbles, or make your own yogurt creation at Granola’s Frozen Yogurt. For more upscale dining, the pan-Asian cuisine at Indochine gets rave reviews.
You can also fill out an Art Mingle Passport, available at participating locations before the event. You collect a stamp at each location you visit. Turn in your completed passport at an Art Mingle destination and you can win prizes and enter a quarterly raffle drawing.
In short, if you haven’t already taken advantage of Tacoma Third Thursdays, I recommend you grab your spouse, kids or a friend and check it out. You can easily park in one spot for the main attractions (parking on Pacific Avenue is good for two hours, and is free after 6 p.m.).
The only challenge you’ll find is getting it all in – there’s so much to see and do. Strolling in the fresh air, enjoying art and lively conversation, and finding new hidden treasures: Third Thursday Art Mingle offers a perfect evening in downtown Tacoma.