VAA should reconsider location of new center

It was with some anxiety and dismay that I read the article in The Beachcomber about Vashon Allied Arts moving forward with plans to raze the old McFeeds building and build a new theater, gallery and classroom space at the intersection of Cemetery Road and Vashon Highway.

I am not at all against a new space for Vashon Allied Arts (VAA). The organization has done a remarkable job, using what little space it has administering an arts organization that any community would be proud of.

As a longtime actor, director and playwright, I applaud VAA’s desire to create new performance space. Anybody who has tried to schedule a play, dance performance, music program or any other program that requires a proper stage, lighting and sound system knows that space can be limited, primitive and cramped. I am all for improved performance, display, teaching and administrative space.

My dismay comes from VAA’s plans to build it outside of the town center. It’s a 20th century concept that doesn’t fit into the realities of the 21st century. There are four reasons that I believe that VAA administrators should reconsider their present path.

First, I see it as a waste of resources.

In this time of dwindling natural resources it is incumbent upon organizations, especially community-based ones, to make every effort to use existing structures to the best of their ability.

Does Vashon really need a whole new structure, or is there one that can be modified to meet our needs?

Second, I’m concerned about missed business opportunities.

A theater in the city center would be a boon to the shops and restaurants in downtown Vashon. Imagine the number of times people head to the theater for rehearsals, stage construction and performances. Think of the thousands of parents chauffeuring their budding stars to rehearsal after rehearsal. Think about what that traffic would mean to our local businesses, many of which are struggling to make ends meet in this economy.

Third, there’s missed synergy.

A theater in the town center brings an increase in foot traffic to the town core that, in turn, brings with it a certain excitement. Think of the First Friday arts walks and how fun it is to grab an impromptu nosh with someone you haven’t caught up with for a while. Think of the Vashon Farmers Market. A theater in the center of town will add that vibrancy on a regular basis.

Finally, think of the children.

What values are we teaching, not only to our the children, but to the community at large? We, as Vashonites, are proud of the strides we are making in decreased energy consumption, environmental stewardship and self-sufficiency. What example will VAA be making by undertaking a project that flies in the face of sustainability and environmental awareness?

Perhaps I am being a bit quixotic. Maybe VAA has already considered all other options. Or maybe not. I understand VAA’s push to create new space for our community’s artistic endeavors, and the thought of a brand new building is certainly seductive. Who doesn’t love that new building smell? But is it really prudent or even necessary?

I look at the billion dollars that went into building Qwest and Safeco fields and wonder: Imagine how different things might be if $500 million had been spent to remodel the Kingdome, and the other $500 million went towards education. Or even community arts organizations.

— Chris Ott is an actor, director and playwright who lives on Vashon.

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