Visionkeepers help bring Bainbridge Island Museum of Art to fruition

A sampling of the myriad of people involved in bringing the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art a reality.  - Page design/Connie Mears
A sampling of the myriad of people involved in bringing the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art a reality.
— image credit: Page design/Connie Mears

Per capita, Bainbridge Island is known for its high concentration of artists and creative types, so when Cynthia Sears moved to the island with husband Frank Buxton in 1989, she asked where she could see works by some of the artists she had heard so much about. She was told Rosalyn Gale Powell would be showing work at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts “in a couple of months.” Gayle Bard’s work was only showing in Seattle.

She thought it odd that the community actively protected the forestlands through the Land Trust, preserved history with a top-notch historical museum, and had people like Gerry Elfendahl working to preserve the island’s cultural heritage, but “no attempt had been made to protect acts of the imagination, to protect it for the common good.”

A lifelong and passionate art lover, Sears considers art to be “the soul of our experience.”

“But since I don’t collect the art that doesn’t speak to me, I  knew it had to have many other people with other sensibilities involved,” she said Tuesday at Flowering Around.

The idea gestated for a decade until Bainbridge Island resident Bill Carruthers proposed the idea of building it on the corner of Winslow Way and SR-305.

Sears had imagined the museum for years, but she’d never dreamed it could go on the island’s most prominent corner, within walking distance of the ferry. But after she knew it was a possibility, she couldn’t imagine it anywhere else.

She conspired with “partner in crime” the late Sherry Grover, wife of Port Townsend

artist Max Grover. She enlisted the fundraising prowess of Cheryl Dale. She consulted with David Lewis and Steve Davis. And then she and Grover met with architect Matthew Coates, who showed them slides of public buildings, asking for their response.

“He said he realized we didn’t want an ‘architect’s statement.’ This was not for his ego; that we needed a container,” she said.

Coates remembers that process.

“It was important that the building be a frame for the art and not to upstage the artwork,” he said.

Based on board input and focus group responses, Coates created 10 models which were presented to the community in May 2010.

“I still have the 260 comment cards, bound. There were some very thoughtful comments,” he said.

The final design reflects those preferences, most notably more windows and a sweeping curve to the entry.

Once the design was set, the board went about a search for an executive director, snagging former Museum of Northwest Art executive director Greg Robinson. Since then, the board and Robinson have been working diligently to build two foundations under the museum simultaneously.

Carruthers’ development company, Asani, and PHC Construction are handling the massive concrete foundation that will support the 15,000-square-foot, two-story building.

Meanwhile, Robinson and the board have been developing a more nebulous foundation – that of gathering support and community collaboration. They’ve met with countless community groups and individuals, listening to people’s concerns and ideas about  the project.

They’ve been developing partnerships with other nonprofits on the island, such as Kids Discovery Museum which used the classrooms for summer camps. Others have presented plays, documentaries and forums in the auditorium.

Artists Linda Campbell and Debbie Fecher-Gramstad co-facilitate a weekly life drawing session.

“This is exciting,” Fecher-Gramstad said.  “The artists I know are excited about the possibilities.”

Possibilities, indeed. The board spent a lot of time and thought defining its mission and scope.

“The museum will be the only contemporary art museum in Kitsap County and the Olympic Peninsula,” Robinson said. “The focus will be to showcase the art of this time and this place.”

The art acquisition committee has just begun the work of establishing a core collection, one that will include the works of all Island Treasure recipients in the visual art category. That’s work from folks such as Joel Sackett, Gayle Bard, Hidde van Duym and Kristin Tollefson.

“The art will come from many different sources,” Robinson said.

Education is the cornerstone of the museum’s mission and the building was designed to facilitate that. Flexible classroom space can accommodate various sized groups and even the museum space will have pockets and side rooms that will allow discussion and instruction to take place on site. Sears believes that the museum will be a compelling teacher.

“Every child loves to draw,” Sears said. “It’s important for them to see that we think this is something valuable; that it is possible to make a record not just of what you see, but how you feel about it.”

Coates, essentially an artist who creates buildings instead of paintings, agrees.

“Art, period – not just the end result, but the act of creating it, witnessing it, honoring and preserving it – we’ve been doing that as humans for a very long time,” he said. “On paper, that we as a community are committed to building this, goes a long way to say how important it is to us. And that’s underscored by the building’s location. When I think what could have gone on that corner  – something far more commercially oriented – but instead we have what is essentially a gift to the community.”

With free admission, BIMA is hoping the space will be a place locals feel comfortable slipping into before catching the ferry or during a lunch break.




BIMA Board of Directors


Chris Snow,  President


Cynthia Sears ,

Vice President


Elizabeth Coplan,

Vice President


Ralph Spillinger,

Vice President-Facilities


John Baker, Treasurer


James Shore, Secretary


John Adams

Dick Albrecht

Bill Baran-Mickle

Steve Davis

Deb Doran

John Ellis

Rondi Gangnes

Mark Levine

David Lewis

Laura Lundgren

Christina Opalka

Kate Ruffing

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