Molly Reed at the opening of the Katherine L White Hall in April 2016. (Len Wolf Photo)

Molly Reed at the opening of the Katherine L White Hall in April 2016. (Len Wolf Photo)

Former arts organization director named Strawberry Festival Grand Marshal

In recognition of the work completed while she headed Vashon Allied Arts — now Vashon Center for the Arts — Molly Reed has been named the 2017 Strawberry Festival Grand Parade Grand Marshal.

Reed was executive director of the island arts organization for more than a decade and oversaw the inception, construction and completion of the Katherine L White Hall at Center. In honor of that feat, she has been chosen by the Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce to lead the Strawberry Festival Grand Parade on Saturday.

“Molly Reed was a natural choice for Grand Marshal. Her work at VCA will leave a lasting legacy for artists young and old,” Grand Marshal Nomination Committee Head Shawn Hoffman said. “She spent nine years helping develop a vision for a vibrant arts organization that includes a top notch art center that can serve the entire community.”

She began her director position at the island arts organization in 2006 and retired in March, 11 months after the arts center’s opening.

Vashon Center for the Arts’ Deputy Director Angela Gist, who nominated Reed for the honor, shared a similar sentiment.

“She has left a lasting legacy with the completion of the $20 million, 300-seat center at the intersection of Cemetery Road and Vashon Highway was a team effort on the largest scale. She called out Gist as a crucial partner through the process.

“All these other people played a huge role in it,” she said. “Angela and I were joined at the hip. She did so much of the behind-the-scenes stuff, and people don’t appreciate it because they don’t see those parts. I couldn’t have done it without her, and she couldn’t have done it without me. Angela and I were a real team.”

She also thanked the late White, who donated $10 million to the organization in 2007 earmarked for a new performing arts center. Reed said the gift provided her with “the opportunity to do something wonderful.”

White, who died in January at the age of 96 and was honored as Strawberry Festival Grand Marshal herself in 2011, was a longtime member of Vashon Island Chorale and was tired of trying to fit the 80-plus member chorale into Vashon’s Bethel Church. She hoped for a different scenario that included good acoustics and a proper stage. That was created when the auditorium was completed last year.

The years leading up to its completion were long and marked with both success and struggle for the arts organization — something Gist remembers well. First, there was a recession that delayed the construction of the center. That was followed by a building boom in Seattle and a shortage of contractors that caused the project to go out for bid for a second time.

“That was a big deal,” Gist said. “The hard part about (constructing a building) is, when you start, you have no idea how long it is going to take.”

On top of that, islanders’ opinions of the building were split, and there were passionate players on both sides. Many were happy and believed the center was a necessary part of the island that has so much to offer in the way of arts. But others found the building unnecessary and out of place at the historic intersection and wished the money White provided could have gone toward funding other projects and causes.

Through it all, Gist said Reed kept spirits high by fostering a sense of ownership.

“She made really great relationships with all involved, from the contractors to the artists,” Gist said. “She really helped to keep moving that momentum forward.”

Since its opening in April 2016, the Katherine L White Hall has hosted well over 100 performances from both local — Vashon Opera, Vashon Island Chorale and VCA’s Center for Dance — and internationally recognized music groups — Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Indigo Girls and the Cowboy Junkies.

“The building is impressive,” Reed said at the time of the building’s opening. “It’s been seven long years. People didn’t think we could do it, but they didn’t take into account the strength of our community, our love of the arts and that we are a 50-year-old organization this year.”

The arts center was an evolution of the organization that will continue, Reed said.

“It (VCA) kept growing as demand for programs kept growing,” she explained. “There’s so many families on the island and senior citizens, (we) just kept developing programming so that all these different groups could have something that is attractive to them. The new center was an effort to have better spaces for the art. It evolved.”

Though retired from VCA, Reed still lives on the island’s west side and remains active in the community, and Gist said Vashon should not expect Reed to be quiet in her retirement.

“I think that she’ll continue to be a very vital part of this community. She’s not slowing down anytime soon,” she said. “She’s looking for her next endeavor and something meaningful to dedicate her time to. I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear from her.”

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