The Mercer Island residents who came together to assist Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN) in finding a new home soon learned that Mercer Island has much larger unmet community needs in performing and visual arts. Over the past several years, the Mercer Island community has lost 14,000 square feet of space dedicated to the arts in the old YTN building and in areas previously available to artists at Mercer Island Community and Event Center, which are now used by daycare providers.
The community-transforming vision to provide one location for dedicated space for YTN as well as for many other arts-related activities and education was first formulated at a public task force meeting in November 2013. Participants at the meeting spoke passionately about their specific needs for artistic performance, educational, studio and display spaces. MICA’s name and mission were developed as a result of that first task force meeting, and MICA requested detailed information from the arts organizations and artists who participated in the meeting about their space needs and projected days and hours of use in a new arts facility. Here is the handout distributed at the meeting and the follow-up email sent after that. What had been the “Mercer Island Performing Arts Center” became the Mercer Island Center for the Arts. MICA began as a nonprofit organization in December 2013, after the first community meeting.
In February of 2014 a second public meeting was held, at which initial thoughts on the configuration of MICA were presented by Lesley Bain, island resident and the head architect of Framework Cultural Placemaking. The initial building configuration, which included classrooms and studios, as well as three performance spaces, was based on the feedback that had been provided by task force members after the first public meeting. The initial “big picture” of MICA was very enthusiastically embraced at the meeting, and the nucleus of a resident user group began to form.
In March of 2014, after Framework Cultural Placemaking had been engaged for preliminary design of the MICA facility, a full-day design meeting with MICA Board members and prospective resident users was held. As the architects were incorporating the programming needs of the artistic community into the preliminary design, it became apparent that the building would either need to be expanded to three stories or to extend south of the recycling center site. This information was presented to the City Council in the spring of 2014, and the City agreed to expand MICA’s footprint into the area just to the south of the recycling center site. The council approval is documented in the Letter of Understanding dated August 11, 2014.