M y community involvement began in earnest in 2007 when I moved across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon to the neighboring satellite city of Vancouver, Washington. As I joined in the monthly salon-style gatherings, Art Conversations, my focus turned toward building a strong arts community among like-minded artists and arts supporters. By 2009–2010 it became clear that the downtown retail stores had been hit hard by the great recession and many sat vacant. Windows into Art came about as a project to activate the sidewalks and make the empty storefront windows a 24/7 art gallery. And indeed for one month 19 artists, 18 exhibits in seven locations activated Vancouver’s downtown.
By 2011 a new nonprofit was formed to advocate for the arts in SW Washington, I was elected vice chair and soon became chair. Arts of Clark County (now Artstra) was acutely aware that few people knew there was an arts community in SW Washington. In 2012 we organized our first arts and culture summit to bring members of the community together to address this issue and the need for local arts infrastructure. Out of the first summit came Clark County Open Studios, a program to showcase artists living and working in Clark County. Our second summit in 2017 focused more specifically on community support for both an arts center (with space for exhibits, classes, studios, etc.) and a performing arts center. We worked with the City of Vancouver on revising their arts and culture plan in an ongoing effort to encourage the development of community-supported spaces for the arts.
In 2013, I partnered with artist Anne John to convert an empty warehouse/storefront into a flexible arts space that could accommodate visual art, dance, music and performance. While VOCA was short lived it proved that an adaptable and accessible space could facilitate and enable innovative ideas and exhibitions. I wanted the curation and programming to offer something not done before in Vancouver. The space lent itself to unique and challenging exhibitions and programming.
My focus has always been in engaging the community in experiencing art, whether as art makers or as audience members—even bus riders who may experience a delightful, inspiring, or provocative poem through Artstra’s Poetry Moves program. The Chalk Doors Project was a pop-up installation in which community members could express what they loved about Vancouver in direct response to the popular “Vantucky” sentiment many were promoting at the time. Common Ground workshops (in collaboration with the Historic Trust) and Artstra’s Arts Alive! events are examples where we brought the community together to offer arts information and experiences without admission barriers or fees.
My work on community projects has been an effort of love that gives back in so many ways, as I work with amazing people who share a passion for increasing access to the arts and for addressing what many feel is a fundamental need of the human soul.