Washougal Arts Commission finds its members

Nearly 20 months after inception, city's arts and culture committee will hold first meeting

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Jeffree White (left) speaks during a Washougal City Council meeting on Jan. 13. The owner of the Washougal School of Music was one of nine appointed to the city's new arts commission. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

It took some time, but the Washougal Arts Commission, founded in May 2018, finally has commissioners.

Established by the city council to identify and actively encourage the development and sustainability of arts in the city, the Commission suffered from a lack of interest during its first year and city of Washougal leaders had trouble finding volunteers to serve as commissioners.

More than one year later, the commission finally has commissioners.

“It’s very exciting,” said Washougal parks and cemetery manager Suzuanne Grover, who is heading the Commission. “We have been a growing art community, and the Commission will add to the efforts that have already been made.”

Washougal Mayor Molly Coston introduced the nine commissioners during the Jan. 13 city council meeting.

The Commission will identify and actively encourage the development and sustainability of the arts in Washougal by serving as the city’s primary resource in matters of public art and culture, according to the city’s website.

“Art is coming whether the Commission exists or not, and the Commission provides structure so the city has a process for accepting that art,” Grover said. “It provides a tool for Washougal to expand its arts in publicly owned spaces. And the city will have more control over what art is provided or gifted to the city. It also enables the city to offer some financial assistance to the arts, which is a nice bonus.”

The new arts commissioners are Washougal residents Kaylyn Schmidt, Jeffree White, Jim Cooper, Jon Dewey, Linda Dalton, Christy Caplan and Annice Attoe; Camas resident Alena Guggemos; and Vancouver resident Melanie Poe.

Attoe, Caplan, Schmidt and White attended the Jan. 13 city council meeting.

White, a musician, owns and operates the Washougal School of Music, which offers private instruction in piano and a variety of string instruments.

“I (have served) about 100 students, and I’m proud to be able to do that for the community,” he said. “I’ve also been a performing artist for years, and I’ve worked with hundreds of different artists, and I’ve seen first-hand how (the arts) can bring communities together, not just on the artists’ side but on the audience side. I’m happy to help promote that endeavor in Washougal.”

Caplan is a freelance writer and author of “Wag and Cluck,” a blog about health and wellness with an emphasis on alternative techniques, enrichment ideas for dogs and outdoor tales.

“I’m just thrilled to be able to add as many values as I can to the Commission,” she said. “It’s going to be so fun.”

Attoe owns Tumtum Pilates in Washougal, where she works as an instructor.

“I’m excited to represent Washougal,” she said. “My previous career was in the arts, and I shifted gears, and now I teach pilates. I’m happy to be here.”

Schmidt, 18, is a homeschool student and lifelong Washougal resident.

“I’ve lived in Washougal all my life, and I really enjoy arts, so when the city opened up this opportunity, I thought, ‘That is so cool,'” Schmidt said.

Cooper, a retired college professor, is a member of the Washougal Arts and Culture Alliance (WACA); Poe works as an urban designer and landscape architect; Dewey is an artist and architect; and Dalton and Gueggemos are artists.

“We wanted people that touched all of the arts, whether it be media or paper or sculpting or performance,” Grover said. “We captured quite a diversity of people that cover all of the arts.”

The city received 15 applications, two of which were later withdrawn. Coston, Grover, Washougal City Councilwoman Alex Yost and WACA member Chuck Carpenter interviewed 13 candidates for the nine positions.

“It was very tough to narrow it down,” Grover said. “We had so many qualified candidates. It was amazing. I didn’t realize the pool of talent in the community was so large. Ideally, we would have been able to select all of them.”

“I was just absolutely completely impressed, not only with everybody who (was selected), but everybody that applied,” Yost, a WACA member, said at the Jan. 13 meeting. “It was incredible to see the outpouring of support and enthusiasm. I have a novel’s worth of notes just based on those interviews. Based on that alone, I think we have some pretty incredible things in our future.”

Joyce Lindsay, a former Washougal city councilwoman and WACA board member, began advocating for the creation of an arts committee in 2018, telling the council in May 2018 that “it is important for the city to have a say about the art that is coming into the city.”

“She’s not here now, but I’d like to give thanks to Joyce Lindsay for starting this,” Washougal City Councilman Ray Kutch said at the Jan. 13 meeting. “She’s been a big mover and shaker. We often disagreed, but we often agreed on things, and we both agree that the arts are so important to our community. They can be a strong asset for our community. (The new arts commissioners) have a tough job, but they can bring some new and fresh ideas to make Washougal a beautiful city for people to want to come to.”

Other council members voiced their support of the Commission at the Jan. 13 meeting.

“I think it’s going to be fascinating to see the value that it brings to the community,” Coston said. “I would love to sit in the back row at the first meeting just to see the interpersonal dynamics and energy develop.”

“Washougal is on the threshold of arts and music in this community. With their input, I think we’re going to take what we started much further,” said City Councilman Ernie Suggs. “I appreciate all of the work they will be doing and the accomplishments that they will be accomplishing to help us grow to be diversified in the arts. I think we have a great base to go from, and I look forward to seeing the many, many things that they will do.”

Grover said the Commission will likely meet monthly and hold its first meeting in February.

“The very first thing they need to be working on is the processes that the city will use to accept or acquire art in the future,” Grover said. “As it has been in the last several years, WACA has been the main driver to bring art into the city; they set the pace for what art they want in the city, then they give it to the city. This (commission) will put parameters around the acceptance of the art. With this partnership, WACA can go back into private art and continue to work with private entities and businesses. This commission will have no reach with that, but will be responsible for art to put in the public space.”