New artist cooperative to give new life to gallery space

The space includes classroom and meeting space, and organizers plan to also offer educational programs and use the space in a variety of ways.

A prime retail space on Vashon that has for decades showcased the work of local artists will once again return to that purpose, with the opening of Swiftwater Gallery, a new nonprofit cooperative that in January will take over a storefront in the Wallflower Building.

The spot is the former home of Gather Vashon, an enterprise run by Kathy Raines and Whitney Rose from 2018 until a few months ago. Prior to that, the storefront was the longtime home of the Heron’s Nest Gallery, a retail gallery run by Vashon Center for the Arts (then known as Vashon Allied Arts).

The gallery space, as expanded when Gather Vashon opened, includes classroom and meeting space, and taking advantage of that, Swiftwater Gallery organizers plan to also offer educational programs and use the space in a variety of ways, along with having regular shows of members’ works.

Many key players in the formation of the gallery are leading lights of Vashon’s visual art scene and members of Vashon Island Visual Artists, with years of experience in creating, curating and selling local artwork.

These include the gallery’s board president, Penny Grist, volunteer gallery manager Kim Farrell, and planning committee members including Brian Fisher, Alice Larson, Janice Mallman, and Valerie Wilson.

Since August, these and other artists have been meeting to plan and create Swiftwater Gallery.

“It all began with a tiny spark of an idea, and here we are with our name in lights in a beautiful space in the heart of Vashon,” said Grist, in a press release about the gallery. “This is not just for showing and selling art, but for classes, concerts, meetings, parties and anything else we can imagine that celebrates art, community and life on Vashon-Maury Island.”

The cooperative currently boasts 51 members who make art in many mediums, at a variety of price points. Classes and workshops, taught by members and others, will cover multiple art-related topics set to appeal to a broad community.

The name Swiftwater was chosen for the gallery as a rough translation for the name of the First Nations people of the island, the sxwəbabš People (pronounced schwa-bab-sh). In naming the gallery, organizers said, they sought to honor these Coastal Salish people and their culture, but not to represent themselves in any way as members of the culture. They sought and gained approval for the name by the director of the Puyallup Tribal Language Program, they said.

Swiftwater Gallery will formally open next year on First Friday, Feb. 3. A one-night fundraising event will be held on Jan. 6, featuring a single artwork from each member. Sales will be used to help defray start-up costs.

“The gallery will be in a bare-bones state as our lease doesn’t begin until the first of the year,” said Farrell. “But I think it will be exciting for everyone to see the creative, collective enthusiasm behind this project — as the arts are part of the heart and soul of this community.”

After Feb. 3, Swiftwater Gallery will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.