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2009 Reviewed: Art and upheaval
No offense to the folks at BPA, but the biggest drama on Bainbridge this year was down at City Hall. It had all the elements of good theater: a story with conflict, twists and turns, a fun cast, great costuming and, for the most part, a happy ending.
The story goes like this: Once upon a time, the City Council created the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council (BIAHC) a nonprofit entity “empowered to act on all matters pertaining to the implementation of the goals and policies of the Cultural Element of the City’s Comprehensive Plan.”
But, on a dark and stormy night in December 2008, the City Council slashed the budget for the island’s “cultural element” by 63 percent, which had a number of island nonprofits seeing red – in their 2009 budgets.
BIAHC whittled its own staff from 2.5 to 1.5 employees- including the hand-off of leadership from Zon Eastes to Morgan Smith in late summer.
In the fall, when city budget talks surfaced again, Pomegranate Dialogues, birthed in 2009 by Zann Merriman to give women a forum to talk about issues that matter to them, offered a presentation on arts funding. One of the speakers was Smith, who described the near “abdication of the cultural element” that the proposed 2010 budget indicated. Smith, who came to the position with experience in municipal funding strategies, said such a drastic decision ought to have more public input than was being sought.
In early December, Susan Jackson, executive director of the nonprofit Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, sent out a call to arms.
On cue, and dressed in red, members of the arts community meandered (it wasn’t so much of a march as it was a milling about) to the steps of City Hall. The ensemble cast was made up of artists, parents and representatives of affected organizations: KiDiMu, Discovery School, BPA, Island Music Center, Ovation!, Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, the Historical Museum, Field’s End, and Island Music Guild, et al.
Mayor Chris Snow tried to choreograph the crowd of rabble-rousers not familiar with political protocol.
“You know,” he said after they broke into applause during public comment, “if you keep applauding, it cuts into the time you have to speak.”
But these constituents are used to applauding. They weren’t there to intimidate. They were, in Horton-Hears-A-Who fashion, just wanting to be heard (but mostly seen) as a vital element of the community, and ahem, to be taken seriously. Even with their red balloons.
City Council voted a few weeks later and granted the BIAHC $179,000 for 2010, which included an additional $43,000 from pre-rally figures, but a far cry from the $326,158 listed in the original 2010 “Endorsed Budget.”
“It was motivating to see so many community members stand up in support of the island’s cultural identity,” Smith said. “And I believe our City Council responded thoughtfully to that public support and tried to focus on ‘how can we accomplish what is needed?’ In the coming year, I’m looking forward to continuing the dialogue on this important issue.”
Though not a fairytale-ending, the story of arts on Bainbridge Island, thankfully, is still to be continued...
2009: The highs and lows in arts and humanities
While the economy provided plenty of lows – sales of artwork and tickets were down, donations were down, and grants were cut from all directions – artists on Bainbridge got creative anyway.
Awards were lavished on locals from home and beyond:
Norman Johnson was named Kiwannis Volunteer of the Year in recognition for his contribution to music on Bainbridge through his work with Island Music Center, live music at Pegasus Coffeehouse, the Bluegrass Festival, and the Hank Williams and Patsy Cline Tribute Concert.
Jonathan Evison won the Washington State Book Award for his novel "All About Lulu,” for which Crossroads Films snapped up the film rights.
Island artist Barbara Wilson’s image was tagged by Daniel Smith to grace its 2010 art supply catalog.
Author Kathleen Alcalá and entertainer Frank Buxton were named 2010 Island Treasures, and will be honored at a March 7 gala at IslandWood.
All highs, of course, but a lowlight of 2009 was losing Zon Eastes as director of BIAHC, casualty of the hard times. On the upside, was the introduction of Morgan Smith, a shrewd move by BIAHC’s board of directors.
And speaking of hard times, Timothy Egan, author of “The Worst Hard Time,” took the ferry in 2009, along with a stellar list of visitors: Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Goodman, and Ed Burns, to name just a few.
Not that Bainbridge needs to import talent; it has plenty of its own: Susan Selfors released “Fortune’s Magic Farm,” Mary Guterson had “Gone to the Dogs,” Jim Whiting released his hundredth children’s book, Ed Viesturs released “K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain” and Susan Wiggs’ “Lakeshore Christmas” got worldwide exposure during the holidays.
Field’s End continued to offer writers entry points to the craft.
Visual artists were prolific as ever, some trimming sizes and prices to find what the market could bear. Galleries participating in the Art Walks and two Island Studio Tours gave them plenty of venues to showcase their work.
BPA produced two plays about plays, “Noises Off” and “The Producers”; two oddballs, “Sweeney Todd” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and two charmers, “Light in the Piazza” and “Peter Pan.”
Ovation! Musical Theatre offered the chiaroscuro “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Dance was alive and kicking as was homegrown music, including gypsy-jazz group Ranger and the Rearrangers which released “Django’s Tiger” in September.
Bainbridge Public Library offered an extraordinary cultural line-up despite budget cuts of its own.
The low would have to be the loss of BPA co-founder, Louise Mills in November.