Island Treasures: Cantwell, Baran-Mickle are latest inductees to storied artistic pantheon

Two new Bainbridge art world icons, Bill Baran-Mickle and Dominique Cantwell, are now counted among the illustrious ranks of Island Treasure Award recipients.

Award officials confirmed the duo’s nomination earlier this month, capping a secretive selection process which mandates anonymity on the part of nominators and approval by a final five-juror panel, its members drawn from island-based cultural organizations and individuals long associated with local arts and humanities entities (schools, theaters, libraries, etc.).

Both winners expressed surprise, gratitude, and humility upon being informed of their selection.

“I got very verklempt,” said metalsmith Baran-Mickle. “I’m very shy, and so what I’ve done for my entire life, basically, is worked in small groups. That way, I get to know people. Otherwise, I’m not that great socially; I’m … introverted.”

Cantwell, though more familiar with the pressures of the spotlight through her work at Bainbridge Performing Arts, was equally taken aback.

“I’m still surprised, I’m stunned,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve earned it yet. I mean, if you look at the other winners and the other nominees and their bodies of work, it’s really humbling to be on any list that those names are on.”

Conceived in 1999, the Island Treasure Award honors excellence in the arts and/or humanities and is presented annually to at least two individuals who have made outstanding contributions in those areas and the community at large.

Candidates for the awards must have lived on Bainbridge Island for at least three years and have displayed “an ongoing commitment to their chosen field.”

Past winners have included such Bainbridge luminaries as Bob McAllister, Frank Kitamoto, Gayle Bard, David Guterson, Kristin Tollefson, Kathleen Thorne, Sally Robison, Johnpaul Jones, Janie Ekberg, John Willson, Diane Bonciolini and Gregg Mesmer, and Cameron Snow, among others.

Previously officiated by Arts & Humanities Bainbridge, the Island Treasure Award is now an independent organization, its committee chaired by Cynthia Sears.

Baran-Mickle and Cantwell will officially be presented their awards, and a cash prize of $5,000 each, at the annual reception, to be held this year on Saturday, Feb. 29 at IslandWood (4450 Blakely Ave. NE).

Tickets will go on sale shortly. For more information, contact info@island or visit

Bill Baran-Mickle: Sculpting culture in founding times

Bill Baran-Mickle is a modest, soft-spoken man as well known for his metalwork and sculpture as for his contributions to various panels and boards, including during the founding of two of Bainbridge’s premiere cultural entities.

Also, he’s the guy behind the iconic Battle Point Park sundial.

Said one nominator: “He is the first person that comes to mind when asked who is a vibrant, contributing part of our creative community.”

He has worked with metal in various forms and exhibited his work in many venues around the world for nearly 40 years, having initially discovered a love of jewelry making while in high school, including several solo shows and more than 100 group exhibitions of varying sizes across America and in several European countries, too.

He is also an accomplished writer. Baran-Mickle’s articles about art and artists have appeared in journals such as Metalsmith, and American Craft and Sculpture.

To date, he himself has been featured in nine books, including the noted 2005 encyclopedia “The Sculpture Reference Illustrated,” wherein his work was selected to represent and illustrate the “Fabrication” entry.

He moved to Bainbridge in 1998, and was a member of the founding board of both the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (he has served on both the Education and Acquisitions Committee) and Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network.

“I love these small working groups where you have this enthusiasm and everyone’s just giving and they’re listening,” Baran-Mickle said. “There’s not a lot of judgment, they’re listening and evaluating … and you just keep moving. And so to me it’s a very creative process, which fits in to the things that I do; from the writing, from the blank page, to making something that hadn’t been there before.”

As central as both institutions are now to the island art scene, Baran-Mickle recalled there was a time when things were less certain.

“No one thought anyone would go down to the corner for a museum,” he said. “The Art Walk [organizers] that they had … they didn’t think [people] would go even up to [Town & Country Market].”

But the times, they have a’changed, obviously. And the previously long-held suburban stigma that Baran-Mickle said once ghettoized art on the island has successfully been dispelled.

“Part of the problem with whether it’s a restaurant here or clothing here or art here is a lot of people had the attitude that you just have to go to Seattle,” he said. “There was an attitude that, to have quality you have to go to Seattle because that’s the place — this is just a suburb.”

But that casual cache is exactly what he dearly loves about the place, and now others are seeing it, too.

“It’s amazing to be in T&C in almost your pajamas … you just have to run into the store, and you run into people that do amazing things,” he said.

Of course, although it likely would never occur to him, there are may who consider Baran-Mickle one of those people, as reflected in his selection as an Island Treasure. In the words of one nominator: “Bill has contributed an enormous amount of time and energy to the Bainbridge cultural community. His work as an artist [and] visionary has helped our island have the vibrant art community it has. He doesn’t ask for recognition (or payment) for his efforts, he works quietly connecting with people and making a difference.”

And he’s still at it, long after BIMA’s doors have opened and BARN classes have begun. Most recently, as a member of the Public Art Committee, Baran-Mickle was instrumental in the Something New program, which brings an annual revolving assortment of outdoor pieces to strategic display locations around Winslow.

About the program, he’s happy to espouse.

About himself? Not so much.

The master forger of metals and community alike is quick to credit the vibrancy of Bainbridge’s artistic culture to the efforts of many others — and downplay his own contributions.

“It’s been a wonderful, welcoming place [where] I can get to know the artists, people seem very enthusiastic about the art, and it’s basically [about] helping create a better place: more creative, more interesting,” he said.

“I really like these early startups,” he added. “When they get to be well-formed I don’t feel as needed anymore and my time is just not as fun. They’re great projects and I’m glad people are there to be enthusiastic and take it over, but I really like those founding times when they’re the most creative, the most exciting. So, if I can contribute to that, I’ve been happy to.”

Dominique Cantwell: The star behind the spotlight

If caring is an art form, Dominique Cantwell is a true master of the medium.

Having assumed the role of executive director at Bainbridge Performing Arts in 2010, she has since guided the nonprofit to stellar new heights of widespread acclaim and success — including two completely sold-out shows this year alone.

She is earnest, sincere, and vivacious, able to gather, inspire, and marshal a huge number of constituents — staff, performers, volunteers, vendors, donors, patrons — and lead them toward a common goal in such a way as to make them happy to contribute.

“She is the most inclusive and thoughtful person I have ever known,” wrote one award nominator. “She quietly extends herself for others ever day, never seeking recognition or thanks. Everyone is family to Dominique. She opens her arms to everyone, no matter their status, wealth, position, persuasion or temperament.”

Famously, BPA was once beset by sketchy behind-the-scenes goings-on. But equally famous has been its turnaround under Cantwell’s leadership, which began in the latter days of the Great Recession … thankfully?

“People were really struggling, and in an odd sense this organization, and I think some other community organizations, benefited from that,” Cantwell said. “As much as a struggle as it is to operate a nonprofit, particularly in the arts at any given time, when the economy hits the rest of the community in that way I think it really forces people to kind of dig in and think about what’s most important. How can they invest in their own community if they don’t have the means to invest a little farther away? So part of what helped us weather the financial storm … was the fact that people really said, ‘OK, we don’t have much [so] what’s important to us?’

“That’s kind of when things turned around, because when people are doing really well they can put their names on buildings in Seattle, and then that made people think, ‘OK, what’s important to us?’”

But with trust comes responsibility, something Cantwell takes seriously and very personally.

“We sort of turned around with the responsibility of saying, ‘OK, people have spoken with their faith and with their dollars, how can we make the most of that?’” she said. “How do we take their participation — whether it’s as volunteers or donors or patrons or performers — and amplify that and make it something greater than the sum of its parts?”

The answer has been multifaceted: diversifying the nature of main stage offerings; partnering with other, small performance groups to host and promote their shows; and establishing one of the preeminent youth education programs in the region.

As one nominator wrote, “Dominique’s efforts may seem to be the gist of her job, but she fights beyond the limits of her job description to make sure the power bill is paid so the spotlight can shine on others.

“Some may see her as [a] feisty chipper nuisance, but she will not be denied when it comes to supporting the arts.”

Outside the wall of BPA, too, Cantwell is a champion of island arts and culture.

She was called “a driving force” behind the recent reinstatement of the island’s municipal arts funding, serves on the board of Bainbridge Youth Services (helping to organize the Fourth of July Fun Run for many years), and was an active participant in the last update of the city’s culture plan, too.

Said one nominator: “[Her] ability to listen to the community and respond with genuine interest and boundless grace make her so outstanding and a true treasure.”

Cantwell discovered a love of performing while in kindergarten (she was the titular beast’s mother in “Ferdinand the Bull”).

A “super shy child,” she said it was learning the ability to adopt a character and act as somebody else that eventually gave her the confidence to be herself. She began college with the intent of being a theater major, but changed her mind after a year.

“I was never going to be Hollywood’s leading lady,” she recalled. “Well, how can I take charge and be the lead in my own life?”

She went into politics, ultimately working for the California Democratic Party and then Senator Barbara Boxer, before finding her way to BPA. A certain amount of social and cultural awareness, though, has remained present in her work.

“There’s a responsibility for culture, particularly in the performing arts, to help facilitate dialogue around some of the particularly difficult, potentially contentious things going on right now,” Cantwell said. “That’s such a big part of our mission. And I think largely it goes back to the origins of theater itself … In ancient Greece it was the product of satire, it was the ultimate facilitation of community dialogue around what was going on. Even when you couldn’t take something on head-on … you pick a different name and a different situation and everybody gets it and is able to kind of work through things.”

Of the award itself, Cantwell said she hopes to prove herself deserving of such recognition.

“I really get credit for so many other peoples’ work,” she said. “Even though I feel like I maybe haven’t earned it yet, this is pretty motivational. I’m going to work for the next 10 years to try.

“I see this more as a sort of signal and a beacon for the future, something to keep working toward so that no one ever looks back in their retrospective and goes, ‘God, why was she here?’”