I was honored to be a part of the new Arts Advocacy Commission that met for the first time at the Stanwood City Hall last night, Monday, November 20th. The Stanwood-Camano community poured so much into me in my growing up years. I’m glad to be able to give back in this small way

What follows is an overview of our first meeting that was held Monday, November 20th. Here’s a rough draft of our purpose statement.

Arts Advocacy Commission
The Camano Arts Association (CAA) and Stanwood-Camano Arts Association (SCAG) are forming a commission that would be an umbrella for our two organizations as well as for other art and cultural organizations in our region, the Stanwood City Council and Camano and Stanwood Chambers.  Our vision is that this commission would work together to develop and advance a shared vision to make Stanwood-Camano one of the top centers and destinations for the Fine Arts in the Northwest. We believe that we are on a tipping point with our two strong Arts organizations, artist colony and art events, an openness to art being an identity and economic driver of our region by the Stanwood City Hall as well as Chambers. We believe that a shared, strategic, intentional advancement of the arts with organizational and institution muscle behind it would make the Stanwood-Camano area a (perhaps the) regional destination for art, and be an integral part of the flourishing of our region.

First meeting Attenders

Present at our first meeting were Ryan Larsen, Russ Riddle, Mark Ellinger, Susan Seymour, Roy Johnson, and myself.

Ryan Larsen is the Community Development Director for the City of Stanwood. The City of Stanwood has wanted to see more collaboration and synergy with the Camano Arts Association (CAA) and Stanwood-Camano Arts Guild (SCAG). Stanwood sees the role that the Arts can play in creating an identity for our region, and wants to support our efforts at collaborating.


Russ Riddle is a member of the Camano Arts Association. He is a woodworker who specializes in “creative studio furniture designs made by hand in Washington with rare local woods, marquetry and inlay.” He is passionate about advocating for the arts because he sees how art can be a powerful economic driver of our region, but we are not taking advantage of that yet.

russ riddle

Mark Ellinger is a member of both CAA and the Stanwood Camano Arts Guild (SCAG). He has been a glassblower in Stanwood “for a long time.” He is the owner of Glass Quest where he teams up with his son Marcus. Mark was instrumental in starting “The Great Northwest Glass Quest” which has become a big attraction in a slow time of the year (February).


Roy Johnson Roy is a metal sculptor who works with found objects to create art. He has been a past president and vice president of the SCAG. He knows what persistence in working towards a dream looks like. For 20 years SCAG dreamed and worked towards having a physical space. Now for the past 5 years they have had a physical gallery and classroom in Stanwood and it has been successful.

Roy Johnson

Susan Seymour is a member of both CAA and SCAG. Her background is in Art Education and Community Activism around the Arts. A relative newcomer to the area, Susan has worked on a couple of projects to integrate art and community. She is passionate to see young artists encouraged and cultivated.

Susan Seymour

Jason Dorsey (me) is the Artistic Director of Sunnyshore Studio on Camano Island. For thirteen years before moving to Camano Island he was involved with the Harrison Center for the Arts (www.harrisoncenter.org), a thriving art center in downtown Indianapolis. A native of Camano Island, Jason is passionate about giving back to this place and sees how Art can be a powerful identity for our region. His dad, Jack Dorsey, played a role in Leavenworth’s adopting a “Bavarian Village” identity and knows it can be done.

Jason close up 2

Discussion of our organization’s vision & strategy
We had a lively discussion about the place and role of Arts in our region. Here is my impression of what was said (not word for word).

Russ: Art is a huge economic opportunity. CAA does a “big event” once a year. The Studio tour. It brings over 4,000 people to the Island, over 50% of those are from outside the area (Seattle, Vancouver, etc.). It has a huge following of people. A quarter of a million dollars are brought in through this event. Approximately $30,000-$40,000 is invested in the tour. So we have shown the kind of impact that we can have. But what kind of business would invest 30K to make 250K and do this only once a year? We need to find a way to leverage what we are already doing. We need to see what a powerful economic driver Art can be and maximize that.

Mark: CAA concentrates on the Studio Tour. That’s pretty much their focus. We need to work on getting involved in other events, like what the Guild is trying to do. The Guild does several events to promote Art. There big event is Art by the Bay. It is good to get CAA and the Guild to work together on creating more large scale events.

Roy: The Guild’s purpose has been to promote a fellowship of artists. Our Gallery gives a physical presence in Stanwood that is important. Besides displaying art from our Guild artists, we have classroom space. We have more and more people who stop at the Guild, express appreciation for its art, attend its classes. Our physical presence has been important.

Susan: Stanwood has a unique demographic. You don’t have a typical art clientele, i.e. wealthy people, here. So it is important for the Arts to flourish that you have a strategy of bringing people “in” from the outside who have lots of disposable money and are looking for a cultural experience. To make this happen you have to have a push from City Planning, you have to have a vision for this at the top. I’ve seen this happen in a small town in Utah called “Midway”. It starts with City Planning. It starts with a vision to be an arts destination. So my question is what is going on with planning and zoning to make this art destination thing happen?

Ryan: There’s a lot going on with the City of Stanwood right now. The City purchased the historic Ovenell Farm (near the bridge), the Johnson Farm also, so we are working on plans to develop these farms to make them a destination from visitors and to open them to the public. We are working on a master plan. This will highlight the beauty and nature of our region. We would also like to see a large sculpture, a defining installation outside of the new high school that is going to be built. This would be a great symbol of the connection to the arts in our region. We are also working on a plan to see if we can purchase at a low cost the Josephine Sunset home. If we do that, we’ll need to repurpose that space.

Jason: At a previous meeting to discuss the idea of starting this Arts Advocacy Commission, Karla Matzke was saying how cool it would be if there was sculptures along the canal trail that will join these two farms. This would be a great way to merge art and nature. Camano already has two excellent Sculpture parks. Also, I’m working on making a pitch for some of our master artists in our region to have their work permanently displayed at the new high school. I experienced this in Indianapolis Public Schools where some of art of the great artists of Indiana hung in the walls of the schools.

Roy: What is lacking is an identity for the Stanwood-Camano area. We have no identity. But Art could be that identity that pulls all the disparate pieces together. People could go to Stanwood-Camano knowing that you are going to have this great experience with art.

Russ: Two things strike me. First, Camano has that “intangible place” thing developers like so much. People want to come to the Island. They are attracted to this place, for its natural beauty and its art. The other thing that strikes me is that we are not exploiting this attraction to Camano like we should. It should be a big inducement to local business to capitalize on this incredible place.

All: As a destination it has a drawback. There’s very few places to stay. You have the charming cabins at the State Park and some Air B & B’s. But no hotels.

Ryan: There’s been a recent study showing the need for a hotel. It’s being floated with hotel groups. But they have their numbers and trigger points. The things that they need to see to make their decision. We have to prove that there is the need, the traffic.

Jason: CAA’s vision is to be a regional center, a destination, for the arts. And we are currently working on a strategic plan to move our vision forward. This includes goals of raising awareness in the arts, art education, and more of a physical presence of art on Camano. We are moving in the direction of doing more than just the tour. If we can combine our forces with SCAG and other art and cultural institutions through this Arts Advocacy Group we can help make the case for things that would make it more of a destination, like the Hotel.

Other Organizations, Businesses and Institutions that should he at the table

We discussed who should be invited to join us on this Arts Advocacy Board?
We plan to invite the Stanwood Historical Society, the Pilchuck School, and other Stanwood/Camano business leaders. We’ve already invited both the Stanwood and Camano Chambers. They have said that they are too busy to be able to send a person to sit on the Art Advocacy Commission, but they want us to send a member of our Commission to sit on their board. We talked about how we can do that, but that we want to push back a little with the Chambers and make the case that Art really can be a BIG economic driver in our region. Having a chamber member sit on the Arts Advocacy Board would be a strong symbol of buy in to the strategic importance of Art as an identity in our region, and our region a center and destination for the arts.

(Potential) Action Items of the Arts Advocacy

We talked establishing quarterly “Large Scale” events. We already have three large scale art events: (1) The Camano Studio Tour (May), (2) Art by the Bay (July), (3) Glass Quest (February.). We should continue to promote these and help grow them, doubling their size in the next couple of years. In the future we will consider ways that we can advocate for the current “large scale” events?

We also discussed launching a “Plein Air” competition in August that would draw artists from around the nation.  The vision is that in August we would host a big plein air event with significant prize money that would attract national talent. Our beautiful location, many parks, etc. would be an ideal location for artists to paint, and fans to watch. Classes could also be offered during this week. There are many popular plein air competitions nationally that we could draw ideas from. We agreed that this could be a powerful event at many levels. What are the next steps we should take in encouraging a large scale plein air event.

We discussed working toward having a physical location that highlights Art in this region that could serve as a center for the Arts, classroom space, etc. I shared how CAA is working towards having a physical location. We see this as a long-term goal. So this fits our objectives. SCAG already has a physical location. But they have to use their Gallery space for classes. It would be great if there was a place where classes could be taught.
The location of a facility is important. Because we desire it to tie Stanwood and Camano together it would be best if it was near the bridge or in a visible location in Stanwood, i.e. on the main street if possible. What are potential facilities? “The Shack” in Everett is a great example of a physical center for the Arts. We discussed different possibilities that could be a physical place/symbolic presence for the place of Art in the community.

What are the plans for the Twin City Foods Space? This could be an awesome multi-purpose space. It could be home for (1) a “Museum of History and Art” of our region, (2) it could have an “artist colony” and gallery where artists studio spaces could be built out and offered to artists at low cost, with a nice Gallery space for them to show their art at; (3) it could also have a multi-purpose performing arts/community space that could be rented out to theater groups, churches, etc.



The next Arts Advocacy Commission meeting will be Monday, December 18th, 2017, at 4:00-5:00 pm at Stanwood City Hall. I don’t plan on sharing such a full-length report from our meetings, but I thought that it would be interesting to recap the inaugural meeting. From the synergy and passion at our first meeting, I expect this group to make a big impact on the Art Scene and Identity of our region.



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