Arts center would enrich our region

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category icon Columns, Opinion

By Martha Martin, Guest Columnist

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a professional performing arts and cultural center at the Washougal Waterfront Park.

This is an iconic building, sitting close enough to the Columbia River to have tall windows that hold the view of Mt. Hood. The main portion of this building would house a theater with at least 700 seats. This fabulous building would host musical theater, dramatic and comedic performances and intimate cabaret performances.

Dance styles such as ballet, jazz, tap and hip hop would grace the stage.

Local and national orchestras, choirs and chamber players could join the performance venues. The Vancouver Symphony could have a professional place to perform.

Many music genres, such as jazz, rock, classical or blues could be enjoyed by all.

How about a guest artist series to attract locals or visitors, and who could work with our students?

Many performances could be collaborative events with local artists, colleges and universities and our local schools.

Education programs, such as arts academies, artist summer camps with local youth and adult education, could be included.

Additional space and classrooms could house artist studios and an art gallery exhibition space. Artistic mediums could include sculpture, glass, ceramics, photography, metal, painting, music, theater, dance, poetry, jewelry and woodwork.

There would be space for both local and national music and art festivals, both inside the center and in the Washougal Waterfront Park.

What is a performing arts and cultural center?

An arts and cultural facility is a building used primarily for the programming, production, presentation and/or exhibition of cultural disciplines such as music, dance, theater, literature and visual arts.

A performing arts facility can range in size from small to enormous. Most performing arts centers contain multiple varied performance spaces, and often each space is designed for a specific purpose such as symphonic music, theater, dance, classrooms and exhibits.

Over the past two decades, cultural facilities have been seen by artists, arts organizations, government officials, urban planners and communities as key anchors for a community, often creating a cultural identity for a place.

Waterfront Park events

This iconic space on the river could also host events on the Washougal Waterfront Park trail.

Plein Air artists could set up along the trail, and the space would be an ideal setting for artistic demonstrations and exhibits.

Cultural dance groups, such as Native American, Latino, African or Irish step dancers could entertain on the trail side of the park.

Chamber music groups, as well as solo musicians, comics and other artists could perform “under the stars” on the waterfront.

A series of these outside events could be called “Art on the Waterfront.”

These are just a few of the possibilities of what this important center can be for our community and for visitors to the area.

The center that almost happened

Locally, the concept of a professional performing arts and cultural center is not a new idea.

In the late 1970s, a group of Washougal folks had a similar dream, and applied for a grant to build The Columbia River Cultural Center.

The group had available land, negotiated a lease with a private owner, had filed the grant through a federal program President Jimmy Carter established, and had heard from then-Sen. Mike McCormack there were $5 million to $7 million in available funds for the center.

The city of Washougal, initially supportive of this grant and the center, became concerned about maintenance costs for the city. The Washougal City Council opted out of the process, and the local performing arts and cultural center never saw the light of day.

The dream, however, has not disappeared.

Currently, citizens like myself are letting the Port of Camas-Washougal know they support this type of facility. Washougal is an art town, with a culture of its own, in need of a focus. Camas supports art and artists through various venues. Tourism is a big business, and an iconic anchor like a performing arts and cultural center on the Columbia River would give a much-needed boost to the local economy.

Economic benefits of an arts and cultural center

The arts attract residents and businesses: a facility catering to the arts can play a role in attracting residents and businesses by improving a community’s image and making it more appealing.

Scientists and engineers, university professors, architects and people in design, education, arts, music and entertainment prefer a location with creative amenities.

The arts attract visitors: Tourists may visit a community primarily to attend an arts event. They will spend money on the arts event itself, but also may stop in the nearby community to shop, eat at a restaurant or stay at a local hotel. To the extent that these tourist dollars are spent on local goods and services, the dollars brought into the community for an arts event will have indirect multiplier effects on the local economy.

The arts attract investments: By improving a community’s image, people may feel more confident about investing in that community. For example, people might be more likely to buy property in an area they feel is “up-and coming” because the community has shown a dedication to the arts and to building creative amenities that attract more people and businesses.

A Participating Arts and Economic Prosperity study conducted in 2015 showed that Corvallis, Oregon, with a population of 57,390, had an estimated spending of $44.3 million by people coming specifically for arts and culture events, and generated 1,968 full-time jobs. Local government revenue generated was $2.7 million.

According to the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis, the arts and culture sector is a $730 billion industry, representing 4.2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) — a larger share of the economy than transportation, tourism, agriculture and construction.

Funding the building of a performing arts and cultural center

Funding for arts facilities can be obtained through public sources such as local, county, state and federal government dollars and grants or through private sources, including corporate, foundation and individual gifts.

The formation of a Cultural Facilities District (CFD), has been one source of funding the building of regional arts centers. The district obtains funds from one-tenth of a 1-percent sales tax, which is then distributed to all local cultural facilities.

Federal granting and lending programs for arts facilities include rural support from surprising agencies. The Americans for the Arts website houses a considerable database of federal funding resources for many of these agencies. Numerous national foundation and corporate funders have priority areas aligned with rural communities and the arts.

A performing arts and cultural center can enrich our community

Centers like the one proposed here are being established around the world.

Cities and local governments are recognizing that performing arts centers activate or revitalize their core areas, retaining existing residents and businesses and providing a desire for others to come. Planners and community leaders are recognizing the arts as a key anchor for community vibrancy.

A professional performing arts and cultural center can be a source of pride for all our residents, and provide Camas-Washougal with a strong sense of place and community identity.

Dr. Martha Martin, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Washougal, the former vice president of the Clark County Arts Commission (2010-2012) and has a degree in music performance from the University of Washington. She also is a vice chairwoman of the East County Fire & Rescue Board of Commissioners.