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Celebrating anyone’s inner artist

Director Pam Christiansen at the Creativity Center, whose door is open to all.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Director Pam Christiansen at the Creativity Center, whose door is open to all.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

The Creativity Center approaches its first anniversary.

An empty building can resemble a blank canvas, a bare idea waiting for inspiration.

And then the brush strokes begin.

“This was a very funky old warehouse space a year ago,” Pam Christiansen said. “Very funky.”

In August 2005, driven by a vision to offer a means toward creative self-expression for all who sought it, Christiansen formed the non-profit Return to Creativity.

By November of that year, she and the newly formed board had awarded $6,000 in privately generated grants to area artists. Future endeavors, board and advisory committee members agreed, would include artistic retreats, an exchange program and ongoing classes.

Central to all of this was a physical space.

Early possibilities included a yurt and a barn. Christiansen laughs and says the warehouse that eventually made itself available in the Sportsman Club Industrial Park falls somewhere in between.

The square-ish space, whose 20-foot ceilings create a sense of volume beyond its mere 1,300 square feet, smells of linseed oil and art work about to begin.

A cozy loft houses a computer nook and a relaxing conversation spot. A patio in back now braves the windy wet, but during the summer, classes spill out and soak up the available light.

On the main level, anything goes. Paper-covered tables line the floor. A small stage serves as a model stand for a weekly life drawing session. A printing press sits at the back. Ventilation and amperage levels generously accommodate wax-based encaustic painting.

The arrangement is flexible and movable, following Christiansen’s and the board’s core belief that an artist of any bent or level should have an outlet.

“Part of the idea with the space is that it had to be someplace that was hospitable, and nurturing, and where people felt comfortable,” Christiansen said. “Because when you start to talk about opening your creativity, it’s a pretty sensitive space.”

The all-volunteer effort to renovate the warehouse and clean up the “nasty” loft took 20-odd bodies through the fall of 2006 and into a stormy, power-outage-ridden December.

After a long final day of preparation in January 2007, Christiansen left a handful of volunteers to the finishing touches and went home to change for the opening celebration. She expected to return to a small but enthusiastic crowd of 20 or so.

A hundred and fifty people showed up.

“That was a mind-blower,” she said. “I was just stunned.”

Ongoing classes, including painting, drawing, printmaking and encaustic form the backbone of Creativity Center offerings along with periodic workshops taught by visiting artists including Pakistani sculptor Humaira Abid, photographer John Wimberley and Bainbridge artist and Taiwan native Randi Evans.

But beyond just the classes, artists on the island describe a sense of camaraderie at the center. They regard it as a place where the printing press, for example, becomes not just a vital tool of the trade but a community hub.

In some ways, Christiansen thinks, the commitment of the Creativity Center’s volunteer staff and the high caliber of its faculty members – who each possess some combination of university experience, masters degrees in fine arts or extensive professional experience in their chosen media – stem from the “if you build it, they will come” phenomenon.

“It’s beautiful. We had the board, and then we had the advisory council. And then here comes the faculty. And the students,” Christiansen said. “It keeps building.”

New work includes hoped-for artistic exchange programs in Europe and elsewhere; plans to put the loft to more specific use as a writers’ space; and fund-raising – there’s now a paid grant proposal writer on staff.

Additionally, there’s so much demand for evening classes that an annex will soon open in the old Oil and Water storefront on Madison Avenue.

Christiansen has even planted a seed with the Creativity Center accountant about ownership of its own building someday.

“I get all obnoxious,” she says, cupping her hands in front of her as if holding a child. “It’s like a little baby, and it’s growing.”

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Creative explosion

For information about the Creativity Center and a complete class listing, see www.bainbridgeislandcreativity.org.

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