The East County Citizens Alliance (ECCA), an east Clark County nonprofit organization, endeavors to improve its communities by facilitating projects that bring people together to work side-by-side to accomplish common goals.
As far as Annie Soutter is concerned, there’s no better way to do that than creating art.
“Studies have shown that public works of art are incredible for communities,” Soutter, an artist, musician, and member of ECCA’s steering committee, wrote on the organization’s website. “They increase pride of place, beautify spaces, encourage conversations, inspire wonder and creativity, elevate voices, foster inclusiveness, enhance well-being, and boost the economy, to name a few. And when the community works together to create that public art, the benefits are amplified.”
Her fellow ECCA volunteers agree. The organization has requested $2,000 from the city of Washougal’s art commission to install a community created mural on the bathroom building at Hamllik Park.
“It is an art project, but it’s really also a community building project,” ECCA member Kathy Huntington said during a Washougal City Council workshop session on Monday, Oct. 23. “We see that as an essential part of this — we’re inviting the community in on both ends, and hopefully, there will be some ownership and pride and excitement about it, and a feeling that that community is valued.”
ECCA will hold a public brainstorming event to help imagine possible mural designs from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, at Hamllik Park, 4285 Addy St., Washougal. Pizza and drinks will be served.
“(We’ll invite) people to share their ideas,” Huntington said. “What sort of themes are they drawn to? What would they like included? What are their ideas for what they think would be something they want up in their community? (We’ve already asked), ‘What are some of your ideas about beauty and joy and gathering together as a community? What are some of the things that bring positivity to the area? We’re trying to seed it with a really positive, uplifting kind of thing.”
ECCA hopes to involve “a broad cross-section of the community in painting the mural, with final touch-up by experienced artists,” including Washougal resident Travis London, according to a project description submitted to the City.
“We’re going to workshop (the residents’ ideas) with Travis and some of the other artists and come up with something that fits with what they’re hoping to have there,” Huntington said. “Then the artists are going to put together something that will be able to be painted by the community members, so there’ll be community participation in the painting as well, and Travis and possibly some of the other artists (will) put the finishing touches on it, so it all comes together looking really beautiful.”
ECCA will focus its recruitment on residents from the neighborhood surrounding Hamllik Park, students from local schools, and members of the larger Washougal area, according to a project description.
“Efforts will be made to reach out to a broad, diverse cross-section of the community — people who might not otherwise cross paths,” the description states. “In particular, outreach will be directed to students through the schools, seniors through the senior center and Meals on Wheels, the local neighborhood through flyers and posters, and the Spanish-speaking community through the school district liaison. It is our intention that this project be accessible, inclusive and approachable to all members of the Washougal community.”
Soutter, the project’s co-manager along with London, wrote that ECCA hopes that “this mural will be the first of many.”
“Imagine how inspiring it would be to have murals around Washougal that we created together, as a community? And what if we painted those murals on panels that could be moved and swapped between all the various locations?” she added. “It would be a traveling mural gallery that represents and reflects our community.”
London, a Vancouver School District art teacher, has been painting public murals in Washougal since 2007. His work can be seen at the Chinese Cafe; the Big Foot Inn; the Washougal Times; the Port of Camas-Washougal’s industrial park; Pendleton Woolen Mills; buildings on the corner of 20th and Main streets, and Northeast Third and Northeast Sixth streets; and a garage on 20th Street.
“The mural at Pendleton is amazing, so if we can get (London) to do something (at Hamllik Park), that would be such an honor for us,” Washougal Mayor David Stuebe said during the workshop session. “I think this will be a great start to beautifying (the area), and a great project.”
City councilmember Molly Coston said that the Washougal Art and Culture Alliance (WACA) has agreed to provide some funding for the project, which is estimated to cost $3,723.
“We love the fact that we are building partnerships with other organizations — the art commission, the ECCA group — that go out and engage the community to get their feedback and input,” said Coston, the president of WACA. “I think that in the long run, (projects like this mural will) start to reduce some of the vandalism and some of the other things that we have down there at Hamllik Park and the whole Addy Street neighborhood if we can get the buy-in from folks that live in that community. I’m fully supportive. I think it’s a wonderful (project).”
ECCA hopes that community members will feel respected and included in a process which encourages their input and values their contributions; joy and pride in the creation of a lasting piece of art on display; empowered to participate in or lead other projects in the future; and more willing to form relationships across typical divides and expand their acceptance of and respect for differences, by participating in the project, according to the application.
“It’s a unique project because they’re involving the kids with oversight of established artists, so it’s not just a single artist going out there,” said councilmember Michelle Wagner, the Council’s liaison to the City’s art committee. “They’re looking at a mosaic type thing where each person is able to contribute something to it, but the artists can go in and kind of professionalize some of the lines and stuff like that, so maybe it’s a little more exacting than the fish that’s out there. (The community is) not getting something pushed on them that they don’t want. They’re getting buy-in on what’s going on, and I really like that.”