Vashon Allied Arts was recently awarded $2 million in state money to help fund the construction of its new performing arts center.
VAA was one of a small handful of Vashon organizations to see funding in the 2013-2015 capital budget, a $1.8 billion spending plan recently completed by lawmakers. The heritage association received $52,000 to renovate its archives building, and the land trust saw $4 million allocated for conservation acquisitions on Vashon. Many are now praising Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island), who was instrumental in securing the funds.
“I think it’s absolutely remarkable,” said VAA director Molly Reed. “This whole island should be so grateful to Sharon for all she’s done for the community.”
Tom Dean, director of the Vashon Maury Island Land Trust, struck a similar tone, saying he was thrilled to see millions allocated during this legislative session for conservation on Vashon. He’s been working with Nelson for about two years to build on land trust preserves throughout the island, he said. The $4 million will be funneled through the state Department of Ecology and will allow the agency, in partnership with King County, to double the rate at which it acquires new property for the next two years.
“We’re going to spend two years carefully picking projects, adding in matching funds, and doing Sen. Nelson the honor of being very thoughtful and fair about what we’re doing with this money,” Dean said.
Nelson was among about 40 people to attend a gathering at the Blue Heron on July 1, when VAA announced the
significant funding for its $16.9 million arts center. Nelson said in an interview that it was rare for Vashon organizations to see so much money from the capital budget. The last time capital funds went to Vashon was when Nelson secured state money to help purchase the Glacier Northwest site on Maury Island in 2010.
“On Vashon and Maury, except for the big acquisitions, they have not historically received as much,” she said. “This year they got a little more. I am really happy.”
For VAA, the allocation more than fills a fundraising hole left when a $1.1 million state Building for the Arts grant expired this year. The nonprofit received the grant in 2009 and secured a two-year extension in 2011, but was unable to renew it again.
Reed said VAA turned to Nelson, a longtime supporter of the project, who ultimately was able to secure a $2 million allocation in a $33 million section of the budget designated for Projects that Strengthen Communities and Quality of Life. Only four other projects on the list received $2 million or more in funding, including a performing arts center project in Federal Way and park improvements in Covington and Bellevue.
Nelson said she and other lawmakers felt comfortable giving the project $2 million because of the substantial progress VAA has made over the past four years.
“They’re in better shape to break ground right now than they were before,” she said. “What we really want to do is see this project go forward.”
Including the state funding, VAA has now raised about $9 million of its $13.5 million fundraising goal. Reed said the organization expects to garner another $2 million in private grants and will undertake a public fundraising campaign, expected to kick off later this year, to raise the remaining $2.5 million.
Bruce Morser, a member of VAA’s building committee, said he thinks the state money not only put the organization closer to reaching its goal, but also reaffirmed what it is trying to accomplish — the construction of a 20,000 square-foot structure that will include a state-of-the-art performance hall, a gallery, classroom space and a large lobby that could also serve as a gathering place for community events.
“Vashon is about the arts in many ways, and it’s just nice to have your state leaders say ‘Yeah, that’s a worthy thing,’” he said.
However, some in the community still oppose VAA’s plans.
Donna Klemka, an islander who has been outspoken with her concerns about VAA’s controversial building project, said the state nod didn’t change her mind about the Vashon Center for the Arts. She said she still believes the building is out of scale and doesn’t fit the character at the historical intersection at Center. She noted that when the project first began, she wrote to Nelson about her concerns.
“This doesn’t change my opinion at all,” she said. “Looking at the renderings of the building that they’ve publicized in their newsletter reaffirms my belief.”
Nelson said she knows VAA’s project has been controversial, but she believes some concerns have died down and that the building is clearly needed on Vashon.
“I take a look at the Blue Heron right now, as we have a beautiful landmark building that really does not match the performing level of our community,” she said. “There are so many artists and so much music on this island, and the venue I think ultimately will be one we can be very proud of.”
Dean, at the land trust, noted that the state budget included conservation funding not only for Vashon, but for a slate of projects throughout the state, including a $100 million land purchase in Kittitas County that amounted to the largest land deal in state history.
“It’s one of the best conservation budgets to come out of Olympia in a long time,” he said.
Dean said land trust and county officials already have some ideas about how they’ll use the $4 million on Vashon. While they’re working to expand all of their preserves, he said, they’ve been putting special focus on purchasing land in Paradise Valley and on Maury Island near the former Glacier site and the Maury Island Marine Park, hoping to one day to connect the two sites with Dockton Forest. The nonprofit currently has its eye on 40 acres of state land sandwiched between the Glacier site and Dockton Forest.
“In the past, Vashon would not have attracted that much attention,” Dean said, “but we are becoming known as as area where there are great opportunities to do really significant conservation work.”
Meanwhile, volunteers at the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association are celebrating a smaller but significant allocation for the nonprofit to make improvements to its archives building.
A $52,000 competitive grant that fell under the Heritage Program portion of the budget was awarded to the nonprofit to complete its renovation of the Gordon Building behind the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum.
A $40,000 grant from King County 4Culture earlier this year helped VMIHA install better environmental controls in the building to protect its sensitive historical artifacts. The latest funds will allow it to reconfigure the space to better suit its needs and add new insulation and low-energy lighting as well as an ADA restroom.
“It will make for a more organized space,” said Dave Swain, an architect and former VMIHA board member who’s now managing the project. “It’s really going to improve the efficiency of receiving materials for the museum and the volunteers’ ability to work in it.”
While the nonprofit completed an extensive application for the grant, Swain also credited Nelson with helping move it along.
“It will be good for the museum and good for the community,” he said.