From a vantage point of the Winslow Way and Highway 305 sidewalk, the island’s new museum has become familiar to the community over the past year.
But last weekend it opened its doors for the first time to visitors letting inside what makes any art museum come alive: people.
A crowd emerged outside the building’s entrance for the ribbon-cutting ceremony June 14.
“When I first talked with Cynthia (Sears), and I asked her, tell me about your vision, she said, ‘I picture a library for art. A place where the community has free access to the creative soul of its community,'” said Matthew Coates, the architect, during his welcoming speech at the ceremony. “Powerful words and an elegant challenge for an architect to pick up.”
Sears and Coates are two of the building’s founding creators. Sears has been developing the idea of a free-to-the-public art museum on the island for more than a decade.
Coates, whose architectural firm focuses on environmentally conscious designs, has been the brain behind design.
The museum replaces a 60-year-old parking lot with a 20,000-square-foot building that is powered on reusable energy, has garnered LEED Gold status, features fine art from local and regional artists, and is open to the public at no cost, seven days a week.
The architect also recalled Sears’ wish to have the new museum celebrate emerging artists, and Coates said the project gave him a palette as well.
“She envisioned a platform for lesser known artists so that this facility could bolster their career and expose them to greater heights,” Coates said. “I don’t think that she realized at the time that I was one of those artists.”
It leaves a lot to be celebrated for the community who came out in large numbers to celebrate the building and their new library of art.
At the opening, Coates alongside Mayor Steve Bonkowski; Suquamish Tribal Council Chairman Leonard Forsman; Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder; State Representative Drew Hansen; and State Senator Christine Rolfes spoke on the challenges the museum has overcome and the message it sends to the state of Washington.
“What this building represents to me is certainly an attraction for tourism, certainly an anchor of our community, certainly beautiful architecture, but it’s opportunities for artists,” Rolfes said.
“It’s the ability for all of us to learn and to share our talent, and it’s the ability for kids and for people who otherwise don’t have access to art, to get that.”
The museum makes a statement in the face of budget cuts being made around the state to fine arts education, which is important for many students who thrive on visual learning, Rolfes pointed out.
Bainbridge Island’s willingness to invest in an institution like this despite statewide cut backs in education is a statement Sears and the museum’s board of directors have come to see as one of their founding principles.
In fact the theme of the opening ceremony speeches picked up on a similar thread: everyone is an artist, and everyone should be allowed access to an institution that validates that.
Atop this, Hansen noted in his speech, the community’s investment into a structure like this will demonstrate to future generations that the arts and the environment are major facets of the Bainbridge Island community.
“It’s what we see when we come home. It’s what visitors get the first glimpse of when they arrive,” he said. “And so it’s so appropriate that it represents our values for creativity and openness, transparency and inspiration.”
Following the speakers and the ribbon cutting, visitors from the island and visitors to the island alike filtered into the museum doors.
Upon entering the building, guests are welcomed by the information desk. To the right of that is the Orientation Gallery which features selected works from the museum’s Permanent Collection as well as acts as the entrance to the Permanent Collection and Children’s Gallery.
In the Children’s Gallery, visitors are able to see more than 50 works by islander Barbara Helen Berger, an illustrator and author of children’s books, in her exhibit, “Vision Revealed.”
Next door to her exhibit is the permanent collection, which features pieces by Puget Sound artists, much of which has been donated by private collectors.
The first floor galleries are lit by floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch from the first floor to the second floor. It creates a welcoming aura that contrasts with a traditional art museum’s layout of windowless white rooms.
Exiting the permanent collection on the far end of building, visitors will pass the museum’s gift shop and enter the main lobby again where they can take the stairs up to the Beacon Gallery. Fibers sculptor Margie McDonald is featured in this corner of the museum with her exhibit, “Sea Scape,” where the most light from the floor-to-ceiling windows hits. It’s an appropriate selection.
“The idea is that you come up from the stairs, and you walk into this undersea world, and it’s full of undersea creatures of her imagination,” explained Greg Robinson, the executive director of the museum.
McDonald’s exhibit features sea creatures made of recycled wire and metal materials.
Robinson, as the executive director, found that her work exemplified the museum’s environmental perspective. But also, as a curator, he wanted to see how the collection and the light would activate the space.
It’s a webby, shining exhibit of wire hanging from the ceilings and walls. And it acts as the entrance into yet another section of the museum, the Rachel Feferman Gallery.
In the Feferman Gallery is what is considered the traveling exhibition of the museum. Right now, “First Light: Regional Group Exhibition” is on display. It features the largest collection of works at the museum, involving more than 60 artists of both emerging and established status. The works were selected by seven curators, including Robinson and Sears.
“First Light” will be on display through September.
On the opposite end of the room is the last gallery, the Sherry Grover Gallery; on display are artist’s books and jewelry art. The books are a narrative and interactive selection of works taken from Sears’ extensive collection.
In addition, the jewelry, done by six artists, showcases the strong presence of metal smithing and jewelry making in the Northwest.
The majority of the artists featured in the museum’s six galleries are still alive and active creators. This is a rare characteristic for museums, and museum officials noted it can only further accessibility to the public. It opens opportunities for visitors to meet the artists and to keep up with what is going on in the art world today, not yesterday.
Visitors to Bainbridge from Camano Island, Susan Cohen Thompson and Clay Thompson, reveled in these characteristics.
Cohen Thompson, a painter and ceramic artist, has kept up with the museum’s progress since she heard that Robinson was leaving his position as the executive director at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner to become the director on Bainbridge.
“I love the vision of the museum, and I’m just tickled that it’s free,” Cohen Thompson said.