This article was written by Sunnyshore Studio’s Artistic Director, Jason Dorsey
In September 2021, the Stanwood-Camano Art Advocacy Commission (SCAAC), a new not-for-profit art organization, was granted IRS status. Since I had the privilege to contribute to the beginning of this venture and now serve as the board chair, I want to tell the story.
Camano Art Association origins
Our family moved to Redmond, WA, in fall 2015. I was finally able to build the art studio and gallery I had long dreamed of on Camano Island. I wanted to join the art colony on Camano, and I wanted Sunnyshore Studio, the name of my creative studio, to participate in the popular art studio there tour every May. Though our space was unfinished, the Camano Art Association (CAA), a grassroots arts organization, graciously let us open our doors to the public for the first time on the 2016 Studio Tour. The soft opening went great and Sunnyshore Studio was off to the races.
Mary Pilkington, who then served on the CAA board, asked if I would consider serving on CAA’s board. Since I had the time and wanted to contribute, I said Yes. It was great board team. Roger Cocke was chair of the board. Then Judi Seegert began to serve a term. Her vice Melanie Serroels brought lots of institutional knowledge and gave a lot of time. Other board members were Becky Tiland, Kate Riley, John Ebner, Chris Tuohy, Vicky Ringen, Elaine Chan, and Kathy Hutchinson.
After a few months at board meetings, I asked what CAA’s mission and vision was. I like to know the big picture, the mission (Why we exist?), vision (Where are we going?), values (what do we care about) and strategy/goals (How are We getting there?) before I dig into the details. I got blank stares, not because the board didn’t know or care, but they were doing the mission, living the vision, working the strategy. They kindly found the files, shared the documents. I learned that the vision of CAA was that Camano Island would become recognized as a major cultural center for the visual arts in the Pacific Northwest. That was a bold and inspiring vision! CAA’s mission was to enrich its community and deepen relationship by increasing the awareness, appreciation and education of art. CAA’s goals to carry out this mission was to (1) create public awareness of the arts, (2) establish venues for art appreciation, (3) offer education in the arts. It was great to learn more about CAA, what seemed lacking to me was a three or five-year strategic plan to implement these goals. I encouraged us to work on a strategic plan. In August, 2017 the board took a survey of CAA members to get feedback. In August we had the results from that survey.
In 2017, Judi became co-chair of the Studio Tour. In June I took her place as CAA board chair. The timing was perfect to hammer out a three-year strategic plan to carry out CAA’s mission/vision. By December, we had a three-year strategic plan. The strategic plan identified gaps that we were trying to fill. One of those gaps was a lack of collaboration and partnerships between the different art organizations, the businesses, and educational and civic institutions in our region. We put it like this: “Stanwood – Camano arts and civic associations suffer from a lack of synergy. We don’t have an overarching cultural advocacy team, vision or collaboration with Stanwood/Camano institutions.” Our strategy to bridge this gap was: “CAA works with SCAG to lead the way in being more inclusive and supportive of other arts and cultural organizations, promoting each other, and advocating for being an region known as an art region and destination by building a cultural advocacy team that bridges Stanwood Camano and cultural institutions.” The specific tactic in 2018 was to support establishment of the CAA/SCAG/Stanwood art advocacy team and to ask this team to create their own strategic plan for the next three years.
As board president, I volunteered to reach out and gather leaders from these institutions to start the art advocacy commission. That was how at beginning of 2018, a group of art, civic, cultural and business leaders began to meet monthly at the Stanwood City Hall. We gave ourselves the descriptive name: Stanwood-Camano Art Advocacy Commission.
Early Days of SCAAC
The first meeting of the Art Advocacy Commission (that became SCAAC) was in November 2017. Original participants in those early days were Ryan Larsen, Administrator of the City of Stanwood, Karla Matzke, owner of Matzke Gallery and member of CAA, Val Paul Taylor (leader of the Stanwood-Camano Art Guild or SCAG), Mark Ellinger (owner of Glass Quest Studio (who served as CAA’s representative), CAA member Susan Seymour, Richard and Robin Hanks, Directors of the Stanwood Historical Society, Chaim Bezalel and Yonnah Ben-Levy (owners of Stanwood House), Diane Hill (leader of the Roaming Artstis group), Sally Pray (who had just launched Stanwood-Camano Art Festivals) and her friend and collaborator Bev Reaume. Sally and Bev only attended a few meetings. There were others who participated, and we were never all together at one meeting.
The important thing was that we were sitting at the same table, talking, dreaming, doing our best to support and work together. We tried not to step on each other’s feet. We worked on a common calendar. It wasn’t perfect, but there were small successes. Like one time when CAA changed the date for a Patron’s Art Show at the Camano Center because the date was to close to when the Roaming Artists held their annual art show that showcased their plein air painting over the summer.
We worked on a shared mission: It was to partner to promote the Stanwood-Camano region as one of the top centers and destinations for the fine arts in the Northwest. The emphasis of the mission was partnership. Our vision was that Stanwood-Camano flourishes as an art center and destination in the Pacific Northwest!
We believed that Stanwood-Camano was at a “tipping point” for art to be embraced as an important identity and a main economic engine for our region, boasting strong arts organizations, a vibrant artist colony, popular regional art events, and a host of galleries and studies with shows, classes and events. We saw an openness to art’s leading role by city, civic, and business organizations and institutions. We believed a strategic, intentional promotion of the arts with organizational and institution muscle behind it would catalyze the Stanwood-Camano area as regional center destination for art, and play an integral role in the flourishing of our region.
We developed values and commitments:
- We value the flourishing of our region’s art organizations, galleries, studios and artists. As they flourish, we all benefit.
- We value serving our community by exposing people to art, artists, and educating people in the arts.
- We value strategic partnerships with business and civic institutions. We want the businesses and civic institutions in our region to value the cultural and economic impact of art.
- We respect each art organization and value collaboration and partnering to promote our region.
- We commit to sitting at the same Table: this means showing up for our monthly meeting, representing our organization, talking through issues and working them out gracefully, and moving forward together.
- We commit to sharing a regional Art Calendar: this means updating the Commission on our organization’s art events and even partnering together on those events. We will do our best to support each other’s events and not step on each other’s toes. Where there is conflict, we will address it and move forward together.
- We commit to working together to promote our region as an art center and destination: This means each organization doing our part to develop strategic partnerships, write stories and provide resources for regional promotion, and serve the community through providing access to art and art education, and advocate for art.
Our strategy to achieve this bold vision was through the Integration, Supplementation and Promotion of Art. For example, we worked with the City of Stanwood and Stanwood High School on a proposal for Gateway Sculpture that we dreamed at the entrance at our region, maybe at the corner of the new high school. That project has been tabled, at least for now.
We hosted a plein air competition. We developed a calendar. We were making progress, but the steps were small and incremental. Until one day when I was contacted by an individual about a major donation, and the possibility of SCAAC being a recipient. I can’t go into the details of that for now. But I can say, it created a new situation, and impetus for SCAAC to get serious about becoming a not-for-profit.
SCAAC forms as a not-for-profit
The new situation created momentum. A number of community leaders became interested in the work of SCAAC. The commission worked with a lawyer to adopt bylaws, vote on board members, and file for 501c3 status with the State of Washington. Original board members were community volunteer, Rose Olson, Dave Cassera, owner of Cassera Galleries, Karla Matzke, and myself. We shortly added an old classmate of mine from Stanwood high school, Diane Lamb Ramos, who brought high level leadership and management skills. Carm Pierce, who also serves on the board of the Schack, brought great insight to the team.
We partnered with The Community Foundation of Snohomish County for them to be our fiscal agent. This allowed for us to receive a gift to hire a part-time staff. Angelique Leone has been a terrific in that role, helping SCAAC develop a strategic plan, and to work on other sides of SCAAC’s project.
We’ve landed on the following:
SCAAC builds community by partnering, educating, celebrating and advocating for the arts.
SCAAC Community Vision
SCAAC will be the catalyst that vaults the Stanwood-Camano area into a regional destination for art, artists and community and contributes to a creative economy and prosperous region. Success for SCAAC means that Stanwood-Camano flourishes as an art destination in the Pacific Northwest.
SCAAC Four Strategies
These four strategies guide us: (1) to Integrate Art into all aspects of community, (2) to support artists in our region, (3) to build strategic partnerships, and (4) encourage art education. Things are happening! We are actively working with the City of Stanwood in her public art program. We are working on a partnership with the Stanwood Historic Society where artists would paint historic artifacts and receive a generous commission. The commission continues to meet monthly, adding new members, and working off a shared calendar. And we’re dreaming together of an art center that would be the hub of our region’s colony and a catalyst for the art economy.
Behind this are values that drive and motivate us: We value artistic excellence. We love our region and want to see our community thrive. We believe in dynamic networking and partnership. We believe that art builds community, and that it can even heal community. And we strive for superior communication. Which, as I mentioned above, means keeping an arts calendar.
SCAAC and the Next Generation
All of this is just words, unless these words get embodied in actions. One of the most exciting (for me) initiatives and partnerships is with the Community Resource of Stanwood. We are working with them to offer art classes for middle school students. Access to art is super important, and rare. Our schools drop art classes before almost anything else. Not all kids are athletic. Many are artistically gifted. And many of them don’t have access to classes where their creativity will be nurtured by real artists.
SCAAC sees the artistic future of our region in the next generation. They are the artists, creators, who will make art, write songs, produce videos. We want to do all that we can to provide opportunities for youth to shine! My creativity was cultivated in a family of artists on the south end of Camano. I had access to paint, paper and brushes. I was encouraged, supported, advocated for by my dad and mom. I want the same for other youth. An relatively unknown fact, that retired Stanwood High School art teacher Gail Merrick tells, is how many SHS graduates have gone on to have exemplary art, graphic design, illustrative careers in some of our nation’s top companies. We want to stand on a hilltop and tell this, and many other like stories.
A Bright Future
The future of our community is bright. Art is a major economic driver in our region, and will continue to be more and more. Our region boasts a colony of artists, the most talented and prolific in our state. I like to say that these artists are the new blue collar workers, and art the new “industry” of our region. The reason I say this is that artists work with their hands, molding the materials of this earth to make beauty and functional goods. And, for the most part, artists are poor. They don’t work to be rich, but because they love what we do.
If in twenty years, Stanwood-Camano is famous as a regional center and destination for art, it will be, in part, because of a grassroots group of community servants, civic and business leaders, art and cultural entrepreneur, and old-fashioned artists who came together to serve, plan, dream, and enjoy the process of working for the common good of this place we love.