Many reasons exist to support the proposed Vashon Center for the Arts

I have read with interest the letters and articles in The Beachcomber by my fellow Islanders and friends about the proposed Vashon Center for the Arts. I feel a need to respond to these views, not by a point-counter-point methodology but by addressing a few of the many reasons I think the center is a really good idea. In so doing, I will respond to some of the concerns expressed.

Art is important. Art is not optional. To my mind, there is not a choice between, say, schools and art or land conservation and art. The promotion of arts education and the support of artists go hand in hand with a healthy community. I believe that art and the qualities that make an artist are the keys to our ability to innovate and make a meaningful future for ourselves as a culture. I also think that those who argue that by supporting one cause we are somehow withdrawing support from other areas of our community are not seeing the whole picture: It is not a zero sum game. We all do what we believe is in the best interest of our Island, whether giving of our time and money to one entity or many, and each act of generosity affects the whole. The Vashon Center for the Arts will serve as a center for ideas, education, performance and display of art.

We are crowded. Island performers and artists need more space than that provided by our historic Blue Heron building and the churches and Vashon High School. Ask any group on the Island about the difficulty of finding suitable space in which to rehearse and perform, especially for dance and acoustically sensitive pieces. The new center will contain three rooms in addition to the auditorium that can be used as classrooms, as rehearsal rooms and for meetings. The gallery and most of the administrative offices will move to the new building so the Blue Heron will be able to house the dance program and classrooms. The Heron and the new building will together make up an arts campus in a centrally located place, on the bus line and within walking distance of all three schools.

Vashon High School needs its space for its students. Although VHS has priority in its scheduling, for years it has shared its auditorium with various community productions and has had to restrict its use as an academically oriented facility. There is no doubt that the VHS space will still be available for some of our Island events, but it should be reserved primarily as an assembly hall, lecture hall and teaching facility for the high school and allow for spontaneity of scheduling by the school instead of locking in a year’s worth of use in advance, which is currently the case.

The Vashon Center for the Arts will be a strong community asset. The new building, while admittedly larger than the other buildings at Center, the historic crossroads where  it will be situated, will be welcoming and warm, a place that celebrates the arts on the Island. The auditorium will be acoustically excellent for theatrical productions as well as symphonic, folk, rock, chorale, chamber music and operatic performances. The stage is designed for maximum flexibility. It can spotlight a single speaker on the fore-stage with the curtain creating an intimate feel or fit the 100- member chorale on risers with a 25-member orchestra in front. The seating space will not feel vast. By comparison, the auditorium has 25 more seats than the VHS theater.

The center is intended to be sustainable, both ecologically and financially. The building design is currently at LEED Silver rating and is a zero water use facility. Water will be collected from the roof and stored in cisterns to provide water to flush the toilets all year round. It is also designed with highly efficient heating and cooling systems. The proceeds from the generous trust that Kay White donated in 2008 will not be used for construction beyond pre-construction expenses. Instead, trust proceeds will be held to cover the future expenses of the facility and will enable VAA to ensure affordable ticket prices and tuition fees, assist in providing scholarships and keep usage rates low for Vashon groups.

These are some of the reasons that I think the Vashon Center for the Arts is a very good idea. I hope we can come together to make this project happen.


— Susan Helsell Kutscher is on the board of  Vashon Allied Arts and serves on its Building, Construction, Communication and Program committees. She previously worked as a professional stage manager.


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