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It’s a wrap to another lively year for Island arts
Every December, I like to glance back over my shoulder at the arts and entertainment stories that kept me hopping all year long. As usual, Vashon’s artful inhabitants put on quite a show in 2011, making news that filled the arts pages week after week. A few art stories even made the front page of The Beachcomber and jumped across the pond to make a splash in Seattle and beyond. Here’s a roundup.
The biggest art news of the year happened at the humble Blue Heron Arts Center, where Vashon Allied Arts’ staff and board unveiled plans for the organization to move into much more deluxe digs — a new $16.5 million dollar facility on the corner of Vashon Highway and Cemetery Road. At three open houses held this summer, Islanders had a chance to comment on drawings and models that showed what the building might look like — a 20,000 complex that includes a 300-seat theater, a 1,000-square-foot art gallery and a 2,000-square-foot lobby. Some Islanders loved the look of the new building, saying it was high time for the Island to have a top-notch arts center. Others had concerns about the price tag and size of the space. In related news, the school district announced plans to build an all-new high school, which will include its own theater space. Sooner or later, it seems, Island thespians will have plenty of new boards to trod.
Two Wall Gallery, a gallery occupying donated hallway space in the Wallflower Building, garnered considerable media attention in February, and it wasn’t a pretty story. It all started when several artworks in a show there were abruptly taken down from the walls by one of the owners of the building. The removed artworks included Greg Davila’s set of photographs of semi-nude, same-sex couples — a fact that prompted some in the art community to accuse the building owners of homophobia. The incident wound up having serious fallout. Jack Strubbe, who organized the art show, was abruptly dismissed from his curatorial duties at Two Wall. And within a month or so, the gallery — for years a fixture on the Island art scene — had ceased to exist. One good thing that came out of the brouhaha was a lively exhibit in May at VALISE Gallery. The show, “The Elephant in the Room, the Snake in the Suitcase, or what is censorship anyway?” was open to all Islanders who wanted to display works. And as the months rolled on, art slowly found its way back on the walls of the Wallflower Building hallways, as shopkeeper tenants of the building stepped up to adorn the space. That’s a good thing, too. But I still miss the Two Wall.
My favorite art shows of 2011? Easy. I was bowled over by “Set the Woods on Fire: Returning to Rock’s Roots with David Edward Byrd,” at the Center for Sustainable Book Arts. At VALISE, I loved the show of tattoo art organized by Islander Paco Rollins, who is a bit of a rock star himself in the world of tattooing. And at the Blue Heron, I found Matthew Olds and Heather Joy’s show, “Abandoned Concentrations,” an exploration of the Beall Greenhouses, to be both stately and evocative. And as usual, Vashon’s two studio art tours provided a chance to visit dozens of artists in the tucked-away tiny spaces where they create their work.
It was a banner year for performing arts on the Island. Vashon Opera wowed with “Madama Butterfly” and “Carmen.” Drama Dock celebrated it’s 35th anniversary with an ambitious slate of shows that ran the gamut from a heartwarming teen theater production of “Godspell” to a raunchy “Rocky Horror Show.” The Blue Heron presented several charming youth productions, and an especially vibrant New Works Series of shows by local performers. Local dance studios put on worthy shows — kudos especially go to Vashon Island Community Ballet dancers and their parents, who rallied after a leadership dispute to present “Holiday Ornaments.” Vashon High School students also weighed in with productions of a wrenching “The Laramie Project” and a tuneful “Camelot.” And over at the Open Space for Arts & Community, there was a new outdoor aerial festival, a boisterous new burlesque series and, of course, the crowd-pleasing shenanigans of the Church of Great Rain.
Music of all kinds flourished on Vashon. Pete Welch kept the Red Bike booked with great bands, and Islanders were able to rock out at most of the shows free of charge. The Vashon Island Chorale presented some beautiful concerts, and Vashon’s Free Range Folk Choir continued to inspire its participants and audiences alike. Stirring chamber music was easy to find on the Island, thanks to VAA’s impressive chamber music series, now in its third year, and the Vashon Maury Chamber Orchestra’s ongoing efforts.
Real stars came out to shine on Vashon: This was the year that VHS and McMurray band director Ken Quehrn brought Grammy Award-winning composer Christopher Tin to the Island to conduct his bands, and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan hosted a benefit screening of “The Godfather II” at Vashon Theatre. Bestselling authors Susan Vreeland and Ron Hansen came to the Blue Heron to attend Island-penned stage adaptations of their works. Rowena and Douglas Hammill invited big stars of the chamber music world to perform on the Island and Vashon Poetry Fest featured readings by regional poetry stars including Tess Gallagher. The Arts & Humanities Series, curated by Islanders Gerry and Mike Feinstein, featured an impressive roster of speakers, including Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright and theater director Brian Yorkey. “Sharing the Stage,” a concert series organized by Rob Bordner, Fred Strong and Harris Levinson, brought Seattle music icons Macklemore and Thomas Marriott to town, and also provided incredible opportunities for Island youth to perform alongside the stars. And Islander Rebecca Graves somehow got it in her head to email Hollywood actor and radio star Stephen Tobolowsky and ask him to come to Vashon to perform a benefit for the high school’s drama program. The result, a magical one- man show by Tobolowsky at Vashon High School, was my single favorite event of 2011.