By Bruce Morser
For The Beachcomber
When I was a kid, drawing was my freedom. I’d pedal my red Raleigh three-speed home from school, find the big roll of paper and a couple of those chubby grade school pencils, and tune in to Channel 5 to draw with my hero, “Cap’n Bawb.”
Bob Cottle created the Boston area TV show, “Drawing from Nature,” and with a big white beard and salty accent, he seemed like an old sea captain, but mostly he demonstrated how to draw. I was very lucky to have Bob — he showed me it was okay to be an artist. Folks in my hometown acknowledged the arts but more as something extra, something for the few to do who weren’t doing real schoolwork or playing baseball. Precious few pursued it as a past time, let alone a career.
A couple of years ago, Vashon Center for the Arts program manager for Vashon Artists in the Schools, Kaycie Alanis, asked me to fill in for Rose Belknap, who created the wonderful fourth-grade Bird Art program. Reluctant at first, I fell in love with the kids and the program, and realized why so many other Vashon artists work with VCA to help our youth embrace different forms of art.
For a moment this Spring, when schools closed, it looked like our kids might lose the chance to participate in this program and many other cornerstone experiences. But as you’d expect, Vashon teachers, kids and artists worked quickly together with VCA to create a number of new online versions of these enriching classes. Sitting in front of a computer screen with 80 little faces asking questions, laughing and drawing birds, I suddenly realized I’d briefly become my childhood hero. Only instead of just one captain for a huge metropolitan area, I was part of a group of island art mentors (captains?) who were connecting with many kids on our small island. Several teachers have mentioned how helpful these online classes were in bringing a difficult school year to a positive conclusion. And this year’s flock of bird paintings may be the best yet.
Remarkably, almost every island family engages in the arts in some way. Art is so foundational to life on Vashon that the pandemic only seemed to motivate islanders to create new pathways to advance a life-long engagement in culture and art. So many great opportunities have sprung up. Open Space’s “Artists at Work” program will soon produce a spectacular multi-artist mural while giving those artists temporary work. My family recently enjoyed a wonderfully nostalgic evening watching “The Big Lebowski” at the Night Light Drive-in theater, a collaboration between Vashon Theatre and Open Space. The Vashon Heritage Museum and Summer Fun on Vashon, among other island culture groups, are all offering new outdoor programs to fit our pandemic times. We’re an island of broad cultural interests and everyone seems to realize these experiences aren’t just nice — they are what brings clarity and purpose to a confusing time.
I’ve been impressed at how this same creative spirit has overcome many economic and logistical challenges facing VCA and how Executive Director Allison Reid has guided the organization to find ways to keep all five of its programming areas alive. The dance program moved outdoors to a temporary rehearsal stage, with limited capacity classes emphasizing health safety. The Original Works dance program, sadly canceled last Spring, is coming alive again right now through video recording sessions. A regular series of Art Education camps were available this summer, and new online and outdoor classes are currently being developed for Fall. Thanks to Koch Gallery Director Lynann Politte, the gallery is open again with a rapid-fire series of Summer Art Fest shows, and art from many collections is available online as well.
Yes, it’s discouraging to see all the seats in the Kay White theater necessarily empty night after night, but many of the previously scheduled concerts are now available online. The stage, however, has been used for performance recording sessions, with wonderful surprises available soon online.
The unpredictability of the future is the trickiest thing. We don’t know when regular programming and full use of facilities can begin again, but more importantly, we don’t know how the lives of islanders have changed. What will people need or want in years to come. VCA Board members have begun having conversations with a wide range of islanders and island organizations to talk about cultural engagement in the future. We’re just calling folks up. If you have thoughts about what might lie ahead or how to shape that terrain, we’d love to talk with you.
Perhaps the one thing we do know is that art somehow makes islanders feel more complete. It brings them joy and a sense of community and will play a crucial role in the decades ahead. It may be why so many islanders seem eager to help keep the arts alive, and it’s a big reason why Vashon is such a wonderful place to live. Cap’n Bawb would have thrived here.
— Bruce Morser is an artist and board member of Vashon Center for the Arts.