Friday, May 27, 2022
May 27, 2022

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Local View: Cultural arts center needed

Facility would provide space for performances, enhance city


Now is the time for the city of Vancouver to bring a center for the arts to its evolving urban core. Projects on the waterfront and throughout downtown are giving a dynamic feel to the area radiating out from Esther Short Park. What’s missing? A facility dedicated to the arts in all forms — music, dance, visual arts, theater.

Cities throughout our region have established arts facilities, giving heart and soul to their communities.

Consider the Columbia Theater in Longview, the Chihuly Glass Museum in Tacoma, the Cultural Arts Center in Hillsboro, Ore., the Charlie Russell Museum in Great Falls, Mont., and Victoria, B.C.’s Royal British Columbia Museum. These facilities host world-class traveling exhibits. They showcase regional cultural arts and provide space for ongoing music and theater performances that bring people back again and again who then patronize surrounding restaurants and shops.

The pending demolition of the Red Lion at the Quay with its proud neon signage eliminates the last iconic image of Vancouver’s mid-20th century past. Why not put something on that key site or elsewhere downtown that speaks to the city’s dynamic future?

A signature structure with architectural “wow” says, “Come here, take a look, we are a fun place to be.” This facility would attract people from throughout Clark County (population 500,000), the Portland metro area (population 2.49 million) and give travelers and tourists reasons to spend time here. Development experts know that the arts are a key element of strategic economic growth.

Experts also say that a cultural arts center in these challenging times must generate daily gate receipts. To that end, arts centers host celebrations, arts fairs, festivals, storytelling events and arts classes in rented space. They must have a clever gift shop with a strong online sales presence. Most of all, they must engage children and families and create a sense of community. No urban elitism here.

What would a Vancouver arts center offer: Dynamic regional art, a permanent exhibit of Native American art unique to our region, a stage with seating for 1,500 for ongoing music, dance, and theater productions. Enough outdoor space for special attractions.

Is it too late to partner with Washington’s Native American tribes to collaborate on a culture heritage arts museum? Is it too late for the city to build a partnership of property developers, corporate donors and patrons who would support a unique forwarding-looking facility that serves to entertain, amaze, inform and amuse? The city and the Port of Vancouver can make an arts center happen. The price tag would be north of $60 million. Those supporting this project say such a project is doable if the real estate is donated.

In addition to the Red Lion site, there are other possible downtown arts locations — six (bare) acres between City Hall and the waterfront. The city of Vancouver could insist that an arts center be part of development there or work collaboratively with the port on a site on another location.

This arts future won’t be easy to map out, writes Michael M. Kaiser, the former president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in an online piece. He warns of a “fundamental crisis” in the arts because of rising costs, stagnating household income and competition from cheaper digital alternatives. A cultural arts center in Vancouver gives us the opportunity to create something new that addresses these challenges. Something that embraces diversity and bold ideas. Nothing beats “live” arts!

This facility would transform Vancouver/Clark County from the Portland bedroom community that it is into a unique, fresh and dynamic place to live and work. Strolling the waterfront is not enough for the thousands of new residents coming to the city’s urban core.

Community leaders and arts supporters have long campaigned for a Vancouver arts facility. In March 2021, a group of passionate people identifying as supporters of a Center for the Arts Southwest Washington sent a letter to interested citizens updating the arts center effort. In it they said that securing a site in the city’s core would be a “game changer” and a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” They said that they could secure backing for a $60 million project. Check out their website at

The city of Vancouver must be about more than jobs and housing growth, square buildings, and chain restaurants. Let’s give Vancouver a personality, a dynamic space where young families, children, retirees, workers can find inventive inspiration, originality and “aha” moments. A cultural arts center does that.

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