Ideas sought for arts spaces in Clark County

Summit to explore growth; cultural, ‘folk life’ event set

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



If You Go

• What: “Creating space for the arts” summit, featuring panels and brainstorming with local leaders, arts boosters, regional guests.

When: 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 23.

Where: Artillery Barracks, Vancouver National Historic Reserve, 600 Hatheway Road.

Cost: $35.

For more info:

• • •

What: Vancouver cultural traditions and “folklife” discussion, featuring an introduction to the new Washington Center for Cultural Traditions.

When: 10 a.m. Sept. 11.

Where: Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St., Vancouver.

Admission: Free and open to the public.

• For more info:

The gateway problem for many creative artists is space. Space costs money. Artists tend not to have a whole lot of that stuff.

Clark County artists and art boosters have spent years — make that decades — clamoring for better studio, performance and living spaces. While artists have been an essential element in the growing cultural scene here, they’ve also been victims of their own success — helping build downtown Vancouver’s appeal to the point where they can’t afford the rent there anymore.

This year, the flagship North Bank Artists Gallery not only closed up shop on Main Street, it also gave up a long-standing hunt for other viable, affordable space where it could relocate. About a year before that, an east Vancouver couple with an impressive collection of world art and a dream about permanent placement in an appropriate local gallery or museum ran out of options and dropped that idea. Meanwhile, the top-flight Vancouver Symphony Orchestra rents auditorium space at a local high school for its concerts.

Not long ago, arts booster Karen Madsen said, local leaders told Clark County people interested in the arts to go find them in Portland. But now, she said, old cultural plans are being updated and development dollars are pouring into downtown Vancouver and the waterfront; there’s never been a better time to make sure all those plans and developments foreground arts and culture.

“We are on the cusp of tremendous transformation in downtown Vancouver, and a thriving arts economy here will have a ripple effect across Clark County and the broader region,” said Madsen, chairwoman of a nonprofit group called Arts of Clark County.

Arts of Clark County will host a gathering of local arts boosters — and special guests with success stories from elsewhere — during a daylong Sept. 23 “arts and culture summit” focusing on space and infrastructure for artists. How to find and develop it, how to build and retrofit it, how to afford and maintain it sustainably — and how to get the whole community involved, from working artists to visiting schoolchildren.

Real estate prices may be rising in Vancouver, Madsen noted, but they’re rising much faster in Portland. An artistic exodus from there to here may already be underway, she said.

“There’s a lot of stress, a lot of buildings being sold, a lot of traditional work and performances spaces for artists being lost,” she said. “I know people who are very excited about Vancouver. Vancouver may become the new Brooklyn.”

Representatives from the city of Vancouver, the Fort Vancouver National Trust, the Port of Vancouver, local schools and many regional arts facilities are scheduled to attend the summit, which will explore all options, from brainstorming completely new ideas to developing the Clark County performing-arts center of our dreams.

Local ‘folk life’

Some might say Vancouver’s “folk life” consists of down-home, do-it-yourself institutions like car cruises and Christmas Ships. Others might point to historic spots like Fort Vancouver, the Academy building, the Cathlapotle Plankhouse at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and the storied town of Battle Ground, where no battle actually took place.

Still others would look to concerts by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Vancouver USA Singers, the annual Hawaiian and jazz festivals in Esther Short Park, more brewfests than one can count — and a truly mammoth Fourth of July fireworks show.

What is “folk life?” It’s traditions and artifacts that are integral to a particular community and its culture. At 10 a.m. Sept. 11 at the Clark County Historical Museum, a new Center for Washington Cultural Traditions (based in Seattle) will host a community conversation about the cultural traditions that are alive and well here in Vancouver.

All are invited to the free event. Meet and share your ideas with Kristin Sullivan, director of the Center for Washington Cultural Traditions, and learn about plans for the future.