Editorial: Our island is vibrant, but for how long?

Our town must rise to the very big challenge to make this place more welcoming and affordable to all. If we don’t, what’s left?

Give props to the potters.

This issue of The Beachcomber is bursting with coverage of our arts and culture scene, as May blooms with exhibits, concerts, an artists’ studio tour, talks and other cultural events.

Can all this really be happening in a town of 10,000, in the next few weeks?

At the center of all the activities is a three-pronged celebration, jointly presented by Vashon Center for the Arts, Vashon Heritage Museum and Mukai Farm & Garden, which celebrates Vashon’s pottery scene, and how it emerged in the 1970s and 80s when an intrepid band of artisans and artists discovered Vashon.

From this pioneering group of potters — and their revitalization of a nonprofit called Vashon Allied Arts — a vibrant and multifaceted arts scene has been molded.

Now, our town boasts not one but two sprawling arts centers — Vashon Center for the Arts and Open Space for Arts & Community, as well as numerous theater companies, an opera company, galleries and other arts enterprises.

This spring and summer, we can all partake in an annual theater festival, concerts in the park, and so many other offerings that bring our community together in wholesome, uplifting ways.

We are fortunate here to be surrounded by such artistic bounty, but we also need to tend it.

Gone are the days when creative types without trust funds could move to our island and live the artists’ life in a tumbledown farmhouse or beach shack rental.

Would Akio Takamori — who is being celebrated in exhibits this month — have chosen Vashon as a landing spot in 2022? Would the rest of the potters, and the young theater artists of UMO Ensemble, have migrated here if Vashon was not accessible to them financially? Where will we find the next generation of potters, painters and actors?

The lack of affordable housing on Vashon is taking a toll on our island in so many ways as well.

In a blunt conversation, Matt Sullivan, who is the business director of Vashon Island School District, said that enrollment is expected to drop in our school district, as many young families can no longer afford to move here.

At a school board meeting, the board also heard for the first time about the possibility of a reduction in force — layoffs could be looming in the district.

It’s a hard thing to hear, as in just the past year, the school board has repeatedly voted to increase the salaries of some of the most highly paid staff members — district administrators, technical support staff and those who work in its business office.

One of the reasons cited for the generous pay raises was the cost of living in our region.

Vashon can’t have it both ways.

We can’t attract and pay capable staff members — in any pay range of positions — to schools that have reduced enrollment. We can’t enjoy the arts if artists can no longer scratch up the money to live here. We can’t enjoy our restaurant scene and independent businesses if essential workers can’t afford to live here.

Something has got to give. Our town must rise to the very big challenge to make this place more welcoming and affordable to all. If we don’t, what’s left?