Supporting local artists helps ‘creative economy’ thrive, puts Washougal on the map

During the course of reporting on events like the upcoming Washougal Studio Artists Tour and the annual Clark County Open Studios Tour, both of which allow the public to visit artists working in their own studio spaces, two things have become clear: first, people are hungry to make real-life, in-person connections with makers in their community; and second, city leaders would be wise to promote and encourage this type of “creative tourism” in the Camas-Washougal area.

The artists who have taken part in both of these events report great turnouts and a sense that visitors are interested in more than just looking at the finished artwork.

“I had about 100 people on each of the days last year. It was a great turnout,” fused-glass artist Shirley Bishop told the Post-Record this week about the success of the inaugural Washougal Studio Artists Tour.

The visitors had come to shop Bishop’s gallery of glass creations, but they also wanted to know about Bishop and her artistic process. This year, she plans to make the tour even more enjoyable for curious visitors by setting up stations to show each step that goes into creating a fused-glass piece of art.

These “artist studio” tours are much more than a chance to find a cool new painting for the wall or a handcrafted piece of jewelry. Much like talking to a farmer at a farmers market about the asparagus you’re buying for dinner, getting to know the artist behind the rug you’re considering putting in your kitchen helps you understand the labor of love that goes into even the most-usable piece of art.

The city of Washougal is wise to contribute funds from its hotel/motel taxes to help grow the annual artist studio tour. Washougal mixed-media metal artist and Washougal studio artists tour coordinator Angela Ridgway said the 2018 tour attracted visitors from “the Portland area and beyond,” including several folks who were visiting Washougal for the first time.

Encouraging “creative tourism” by promoting an area’s cultural opportunities helps form emotional bonds and ensures visitors will remember something special about their trip to Washougal — likely returning to spend money at area hotels, restaurants and gas stations — and gives a town like Washougal, easily overshadowed in a culturally rich area like the Portland metro region, its own unique place on the map.

The economic value of the creative class is clear. In 2016, a state report showed the “creative economy” in Washington contributed to more than 200,000 jobs, reported earnings of nearly $22.8 billion, and provided workers an average annual wage of $51,000. In 2018, Business Insider magazine said Washington state had one of the top three “artsiest” state economies, second only to New York. State leaders have long understood the benefits of strengthening the creative economy: their statewide push to form “Certified Creative Districts” and take advantage of creative tourism at the local level has been happening for nearly 10 years.

Clark County as a whole is ripe to capitalize on its wealth of artists and creative residents. In 2013, Arts of Clark County and the Clark County Arts Commission partnered under the umbrella of the state’s “Creative Districts” pilot program and came up with data showing Clark County’s creative economy was performing better than the national average: with Clark County residents spending nearly $6 million on musical instruments and supplies in 2011, and independent artists, writers and performers in Clark County reporting sales of nearly $20 million in 2011. Camas and Washougal are both popular Clark County towns for artists, musicians and other creatives looking to live in a more rural or small-town setting while remaining close to a major metro region.

Locally, we can see the popularity of events centered on the arts every first Friday of the month in downtown Camas, where art galleries like Attic Gallery, Camas Gallery and Second Story Gallery regularly attract hundreds of visitors to their monthly artist receptions and help attract people to the city’s downtown business core for more “First Friday” shopping, dining and art-related experiences.

We would urge community leaders to continue their financial and political support of the area’s growing creative economy — and for locals to head out to the Washougal Studio Artists Tour, happening Saturday and Sunday, May 11-12, to support local artists and make stronger community connections.

For more information about the tour or to view a tour map, visit WashougalStudioArtists.org.