Opinion

With purchase of McFeed’s building, Vashon Allied Arts grows into central role

We have found ourselves in an exciting position — adjacent to the future Vashon Allied Arts (VAA). With the promising development of the purchase of the McFeed’s property, VAA, it seems, is poised to grow into the physical manifestation of its ongoing role as the center of the Vashon arts community.

As the owners of The Old Fuller Store property directly across the street and as an artist (Roy) and a Vashon native (Mike), we have enormous anticipation and curiosity about what VAA might build on the property. We see it as a chance to not only create contemporary facilities for its performance programs, visual art programs and educational programs, but also as a chance to explore, expand and understand their role within the broader Vashon community.

At this juncture, it is important to realize that as a building project, this could be the most significant architectural endeavor the Island has seen in a long time, maybe ever. Its prominence at its highly frequented intersection, the historical center of the Island, could hardly be overstated. While the McFeed’s building has survived beyond when even its builders imagined it would, and while there is most likely little to save there, it currently functions as a key visual aspect of this historic and soulful intersection. Whatever building replaces it, whether white clapboard or concrete and steel, must fit its setting and take it to a new place. In other words, this building (or buildings) should relate to and even enhance The Old Fuller Store, Vashon’s first inland general store from 1884, and the richly historied Minglement building, but also participate in the world we live in now.

Whatever architectural firm is ultimately selected, hopefully through either a public competitive process or another carefully considered public process, will need to listen to the community and also look at the Island sensitively.

Important decisions need to be made. We can imagine some: Is this facility mainly for residents of the Island, or is it intended as a regional attraction to bring folks from off-Island? And that brings up questions about the financial sustainability of whatever size facility is built. How would a theater complement other facilities under development on Vashon, such as “O,” the new theater space David Godsey and Janet McAlpin are creating? What are the long-term objectives and goals of the visual art programs? Is there a way to expand its relation to other visual art centers in the Puget Sound region? What are the educational possibilities of an expanded facility? Are all the needs and understanding of the needs in sync with every aspect of VAA? Should the development be phased, such as building a theater or restoring the original building first, and then adding new art galleries later?

The generosity of Kay White’s gift, which is making this dream real, is extraordinary. And the vision and hard work that Molly Reed and the board have shown to get VAA to this point are impressive. We are grateful for the chance to be a part of the next phase of Vashon’s history and expect there are many who feel the same.

It is our hope this same quality of vision will be brought to bear in setting up a comprehensive framework to incorporate the larger community into their planning — perhaps through information gathering (and information sharing) meetings, as well as by constituting a community advisory board to provide both insight and oversight.

We don’t want this project to get bogged down in a burdensome process, but its importance requires involvement beyond the current board and management. The collective wisdom and love of this Island by the entire community needs to be incorporated in every aspect of this project for it to be a success. We have already found ourselves in curious and excited conversations with Island residents who are not currently involved with VAA at this point but who want to and would bring a lot to the process and, more importantly, to the new campus that might be built.

In other words, this project will redefine what VAA is and will be. While we would love to see and enjoy new facilities in the near future, this project is for the long-term, and it needs to be right. As a result, the process must be given the time it takes to allow for community input, inclusiveness and other processes that will help to ensure it serves both VAA and the Island community for generations to come.

— Mike Jacobs, a scientist and Vashon native, and Roy McMakin, an artist, own The Old Fuller Store, and are active in the Puget Sound art scene.

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