We believe in the power of the arts as a vehicle to teach us profound lessons about the most important art of all, the art of being human. Arts have an uncanny ability to circumvent politics and ideology. Art brings neighbors together to share meaningful experiences and creates important conversations and collaborations in a community that otherwise may not happen.  With art, we grapple together with life’s most vital issues.

Thank you to everyone that came together with us on June 11 to envision the future of arts on Mercer Island!

Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) is conducting a Community Visioning Dialog, during the spring and summer of 2018, to get direction from the community on the needs for the future of arts on MI.  We engaged, Phinney Bischoff, a reputed local research firm, to co-lead and manage this study.  Input is being collected from individual interviews, small group sessions, large community forums and an online community-wide survey in July.

We asked for your participation on a beautiful Monday night in June for a visioning dialog about a space and a place for the arts on Mercer Island and you showed up. Wow, did you ever show up! Over 100 Islanders gathered together at the Boys & Girls Club (PEAK) and spent two hours engaged in a robust, respectful discussion on three topic areas:  The Big Picture, Imagining the Possibilities, and Programming and Activities.

We were blown away by the amount of positive energy in the room. People were highly engaged — leaning in to hear one another, showing respect to those who were talking, and lingering with their group-mates in between questions. We heard many of the same themes that have been percolating in our small group input sessions:

  • Consolidation of arts organizations and activities
  • A permanent home for YTN on the island
  • Excitement for community gathering opportunities
  • Lack of awareness around what’s happening in the arts
  • A “safe” space to explore arts
  • Pride of place (often tied to desire for “vibrant city center”)
  • Redefining what Mercer Island stands for
  • A space to DO art, not just see it
  • Having more things to do on the island i.e. a 3rd place
  • Interest in arts classes — both traditional and unexpected
  • Intergenerational activities
  • Attracting quality performances/exhibits

There were valid concerns voiced around cost and sustainability, as well as site selection. We found people who came in uncertain or opposed to the project willing to and engaged in the conversation. We also heard a handful of comments along the lines of, “Are we thinking big enough?”, not to mention the many conversations supporting the idea that there is a hunger to bring a sense of excitement and spontaneity to the island. Together these insights are leading us to believe that perhaps the definition of arts and culture might be broader for our community than we originally thought.  There seems to be a lot of excitement about the project and a genuine desire to find a way forward and we are very encouraged by it.

So, what’s next?  If you couldn’t participate in the June 11 forum, we’ll have another one in late July, in addition to an on-line community-wide survey on the same issues.   The small group input sessions will continue throughout the summer and we’re always happy to meet one-on-one. MICA will share the findings with the community at the end of the study in September, and use the input to direct the decisions on site selection and programming for a potential future arts center on Mercer Island.

Arts brings us together.  Thanks for coming together with us on June 11.

For more information visit MercerIslandArts.org; email info@mercerislandarts.org; visit the MICA office at 7710 SE 29th – summer office hours 9:30-1:00pm, M-Th. or ring 206-715-7671.


Mercer Island business owners were the next group at a community input session.  This group stressed the desire for a “vibrant town center.”

These residents agree that an arts center will bring in new types of commerce that could shape the ecosystem of the island, and hope that it could redefine existing perceptions of Mercer Island as a place only for the wealthy. Many believe that in addition to scheduled performances, an arts center on Mercer Island should be a place that people could flow in and out of during the day. The biggest takeaway from this session is that an arts center of this scale must belong first and foremost to the community.
Some key quotes from this group:
“Something like this could transform our reputation as a bedroom community into a destination.”
“Mercer Island is recognized for so much–schools, most livable place–the culture piece is missing from the triangle.”
“I can’t imagine this not being a win.”
“I want a reason to stay here.”
“I reel a good rumbling happening around downtown.”
Several community small-group input sessions to come!
Everyone’s input is important! Our next larger community visioning dialogue will be towards the end of July, date and time still to be decided. For more information, please visit https://www.mercerislandarts.org/ or email: info@mercerislandarts.org or call: (206) 715-7671.

What: Input Session #4
Who: Seniors
Where: Mercer Island Community and Events Center
When: May 30, 2018

We continue to get a wide range of people at our community input sessions. The senior session was no different.

Many respondents talked about a central place being essential to create “synergy” on the island for the arts. There was much discussion around programming and how that would entice them to stay on the island. Civic pride was also a hot topic. For example, this group was the first to bring up the idea of needing a “new identity” for Mercer Island — several felt that it was time for Mercer Island to be “known” for something arts-related.

Here are just a few quotes taken from the senior group:

“It would be nice to have more art for people who have more time. Who never knew what they were capable of.”
“Lots of things happen around here that we don’t know about” (re: arts events)
“Arts can bring a community together. Lots of people don’t even know what’s happening downtown.”
“We should position it as a reason to stay [i.e., move here.] Come for the schools but stay for the arts.”
“When I moved here, I was honestly surprised that we didn’t have an arts center”

Input sessions to come: business owners, City of Mercer Island. Keep up on the dialogue by regularly visiting our website.

Everybody’s input is important! Please register and take part in our large visioning session on June 11 from 7-9:00pm at the Mercer Island Boys and Girls Club. Visit www.mercerislandarts.org/register or email info@mercerislandarts.org or call 206-715-7671.

What: Input Session #2
Who: Parents
Where: Mercer Island Community and Events Center
When: May 23, 2018

Many parents came out to take part in the second input session. It was an amazing group with lots of thoughtful comments that will undoubtedly help MICA move forward.

These thoughtful parents described the creative energy on the island as polarizing, lacking, and “resume-based,” where kids are encouraged to pad their college resumes with art stuff, and once that’s checked off, they abandon the activity. Aside from the obvious need for a theatre space (as stated by the group), they spoke at length about the desire for a central place where art resources could meld together.  Finally, they also talked about giving teenagers a place to go, given the fact not much else happens on the island.

Parents had a lot to say and here are a few key quotes that come out of the discussion.

“We need more to do on the island besides grilling and drinking. I’ve had enough of that.”
“There should be more than one reason to stay downtown. Where you can run into people and make connections.”
“The community center was supposed to be for gathering, but it’s too boxed in and purpose driven.”
“Who’s in the charge of the programming? It should be community-based.”
“MICA could be a place where you drop the homework for a night and do a family thing.”
“Art is the great equalizer for us all.”

Input sessions to come: business owners, City of Mercer Island. Keep up on the dialogue by regularly visiting our website.

Everybody’s input is important! Please register and take part in our large visioning session on June 11 from 7-9:00pm at the Mercer Island Boys and Girls Club. Visit www.mercerislandarts.org/register or email info@mercerislandarts.org or call 206-715-7671.

What: Input Session #3
Who: Students
Where: Mercer Island Community and Events Center
When: May 25, 2018

Third in our installment of input sessions was the student group. These students made up a nice cross-section of the arts on Mercer Island: band, orchestra, YTN, drama, and visual art. But, also many of these students take part in sports and other outside organizations like the Boy Scouts.

Moderators from Phinney Bischoff said “This was a really fun group”. It was felt strongly, by these students, that the arts were an escape from their stressful academic lives. According to them, MICA would “legitimize” arts on the island as opposed to keeping it confined to insiders. There was also much discussion about the downtown core as being “blah” (yes, we laughed out loud too!). Being a part of a local space for the arts, rather than always driving to Seattle, was exciting to these young artists – “we’ve been to the same restaurants on MI too many times and there aren’t a lot of other social things to do.”

Here are some quotes from the students:

“GPA is the most stressful thing, but at least the arts don’t decide my life.”
“What do I get out of the arts? There is a thrill to almost failing. To creating something.”
“Our arts community is stagnant. There isn’t much flow or mixing between groups. I feel like I’m in my own little box.”
“It would be good to have a place for younger artists to explore and find their passion early.”

Input sessions to come: business owners, City of Mercer Island. Keep up on the dialogue by regularly visiting our website.

Everybody’s input is important! Please register and take part in our large visioning session on June 11 from 7-9:00pm at the Mercer Island Boys and Girls Club. Visit www.mercerislandarts.org/register or email info@mercerislandarts.org or call 206-715-7671.

What: Input Session #1
Who: Arts Groups and Artists
Where: Mercer Island Community and Events Center
When: May 15, 2018

The first of our small input sessions began on Tuesday, May 15th. MICA is excited that so many arts groups and individual artists decided to take part in the session. These sessions are led and moderated by our partner Phinney Bischoff and are a great way to get unbiased opinions from island arts stakeholders.

The topics were varied and ranged from how the arts on the island need a space, MICA’s role as a central hub for the arts, STEM vs. STEAM, and the importance of bringing diverse communities to the arts table. At the end of the Community Visioning, MICA will synthesize all of these discussions and release a full report.

Here are a few great quotes to ponder:

“We have the recipe and everything is in the pot…but not one’s turned on the burner yet”
“Our city leaders just want to create more programs. No one wants to be the glue.”
“MICA can bring a sense of community that can exist outside of the schools.”
“Find the people who support it and press on them. Once it’s built, everyone will love it.”
“Too many people live with the assumption that all the good stuff happens in Seattle. Others believe that if you support the arts, you’re taking away from something else. MICA can challenge that.”

Input sessions to come: business owners, parents, and many more. Keep up on the dialogue by regularly visiting our website.

Everybody’s input is important! Please register and take part in our large visioning session on June 11 from 7-9:00pm at the Mercer Island Boys and Girls Club. Visit www.mercerislandarts.org/register or email info@mercerislandarts.org or call 206-715-7671.

Throughout the months of May, June, and July MICA will be holding various large and small community gatherings. We want to hear what you would like to see in a space for the arts on Mercer Island.

The first large community visioning session will be similar to a town hall. But unlike traditional town hall gatherings, this 2-hour session will be conducted as a series of small group discussions so that all attendees are given an opportunity to share their unique points of view. Our goal in using this format is to also foster productive dialogue among our friends and neighbors.

Each small group discussion will be between 5-10 participants. They will be co-moderated by the MICA team and our community input partner, Phinney Bischoff. Each group will be given a discussion prompt, and after a deep dive into that topic, participants will be asked to swap tables and explore another topic with a fresh set of perspectives. By carrying their ideas from one table to the next, we hope that participants will build on each other’s thoughts, resulting in a positive exchange of insights.

To take part in the June 11th visioning session you must register by clicking the accompanying link or visit the MICA website.


Hopefully you were able to catch the outrageously funny performance of YTN’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I was fortunate enough to attend the final performance and was even selected to be a part of the Spelling Bee on stage with four other audience members. Unfortunately I was the first to go, of course I was robbed. But seriously, I had a great time and was also glad I attended that performance because I was able to witness the final show of the senior class which was an such an emotional event for all YTN students and staff. Over the last year I’ve had the pleasure to get to know a hand full of the students and Annika Evan is one of those. I dropped her a quick line asking her what her favorites roles have been in the many years she has been a part of YTN.

Keith – What were some of your favorite roles during your time at YTN?
Annika – Marcy Park in this years performance of Spelling Bee has been my favorite role. This is one of my favorite shows, and was the last show I got to be in at YTN.

Annika goes on to say that the show was incredibly fun because they all got to play children, which at the age of 18, she doesn’t get to do often.

“The character I played, I felt was a much more exaggerated version of myself, which gave me an understanding about myself that I did’t know I would ever get. I loved the cast of this show, and the fact that the entire show was double cast. Being able to watch the other cast and work with them taught be a lot about acting and character development. And it was so fun to be able to see all of the difference in the two shows.”

She went on to tell me that another role she loved was the puppeteer for Nicky in Avenue Q: School Edition her freshman year.

Keith – What was different about this role for you than others?
Annika – This role was different from any other role I had ever played because I did not have any lines, as I was the puppeteer and there was another actor that did the voice. As the puppeteer, I had to be able to portray the character’s story and show his emotion and reactions without saying any word, which was a skill I found very challenging, yet very fun, and I learned a lot.

Keith – Not being able to speak, how did you work with the actor performing the voice?
Annika – I loved getting to work so close with the actor doing the voice of Nicky, and collaborating with him about how the character walks, and moves, and feels at certain points in the show.

We also performed this show at a black box theatre in Seattle Center, which made us all feel very professional.

Keith – I saw that you played your bass in Spelling Bee, have you played your bass in other roles
Annika – One final role I loved playing MC Dog in Go Dog Go this past summer. This role was so much fun because I got to be in a cast with younger actors who I always love working with and watching them grow as actors. I also loved that most of this show was physical comedy and not a lot of talking. This was another show I also got to play my bass, and it was the first show I was able to do that – I loved it.

Annika is graduating this year and I was very happy to have been on stage with her. Thank you to the entire YTN team for inviting me up to be a part of the Spelling Bee. Annika, I know the entire island will miss you. Thank you for taking part in this short Q&A.

Q & A with Robert Wood

written by Julia Hess

Robert, an artist on Lopez Island, has been creating  Mixed Media artwork for over 20 years. His exhibit, “Left Luggage” at SZ Gallery will feature a whimsical narrative revealing the story of travelling gnomes. To learn more about his exhibit, I sent a few questions along to Robert – read on for his Q&A!

Julia Hess: First of all, why gnomes? 

Robert Wood: Gnomes were selected for their diminutive size, outrageous aesthetics, fun loving nature and desire to remain a bit hidden in the landscape. It is a snapshot of a wildly different way of life and an invitation to the viewer to suspend expectations around a “constitution of aesthetic beauty.” It is a limited collection of 36 pieces.

JH:   What themes or motifs inspire you the most when creating your work? 

RW: The themes I most like to explore involve nontraditional views of beauty, invoking new perspectives on familiar objects and the marriage of abstract images and natural materials such as bark, plant tendrils, nest materials and beach floss. I carry these themes out in sculpture, collage, and shadow box works.

JH: What does the “left luggage” represent? 

RW: The Left Luggage of Gnome Island tells a story of 36 Gnome travelers who cross Callow’s Bridge to Infinity and vanish into thin air leaving only their luggage behind. It is a statement on the impermanence of objects from the perspective of infinity and a cultural reveal of life on a remote fantasy island with its own unique history and characters. The luggage was” left behind” as it was no longer needed once the travelers crossed the bridge.

JH: How do your surroundings on Lopez Island inspire your artwork? How does this work into the map of Gnome Island? 

RW: Island life engages a certain myopic focus reinforced by geography which feeds the growth of an island culture all its own. One knows their neighbors on a small island. Anonymity does not exist here. Gnome Island is a parallel reality to Lopez Island. While there are no specific similarities, I endeavored to make Gnome Island an interesting island with absurd amenities like a theme park and railroad.  As I developed descriptions for the luggage, a narrative unfolded based upon the lives of the original luggage owners who had vanished.

Come see Robert’s art at SZ Gallery from April 6th to May 31st. You can also view their artwork on the SZ website.

There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t run into Natalya Ageyeva on Mercer Island. Granted, since Russian Chamber Music Foundation of Seattle is a MICA partner we have many meetings, but aside from those, I can no longer count on my fingers the number of times we run into each other shopping at New Seasons.

Even if you don’t know Natalya you have more than likely seen her performances during the summer at Luther Burbank Park. She and I had a quick back and forth text followed by an impromptu ‘coffee talk’ regarding her top 5 classical music pieces. Here is the quick list.

1. J.S. Bach | Mass in B minor.
This one is very close to Natalya’s heart (though she says this about each composition below); a piece she has obsessed over from age 14. Natalya talks about Bach from two different points of view: intellectually and meditatively. She is struck by his harmony & compositional technique. Any musical novice can look at Bach’s manuscripts and remark on the sea of notes over multiple pages of staff paper; almost making one’s eyes blur. But, Bach’s Mass made a profound statement on her. She describes the B minor mass as “close to godliness in music that she knows”. That is quite the recommendation.

2. Antonin Dvorak | “Song of the Moon” from the opera Rusalka.
If you haven’t heard “Song of the Moon” here is a quick clip. It’s a haunting and beautiful melody that will make the most masculine of men weak in the knees. It makes sense why this is in Natalya’s top five. She does say that specifically, she prefers the rendition by opera star Anna Netrebko.

3. Ludwig van Beethoven | Piano Trio, Op. 97 “Archduke” 
Of course we come to expect at least one piece by Beethoven, but a piano trio? (what could Natalya be thinking, but I digress). Dedicated to Archduke Rudolph of Austria, this was one of fourteen compositions Beethoven dedicated to the Archduke. Natalya went on to explain the inspiration this piece bestows on her. Not the type of inspiration it has on her piano playing, but inspiration on her writing (not music), or house cleaning, or it just makes her feel better when she is down.

4. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky | 6th Symphony
Who doesn’t love Tchaikovsky? And Natalya is no different. But out of all the monumental works Tchaikovsky has composed why did she choose this piece? She told me she first heard his 6th Symphony as a teenager when it was performed in the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. It’s quite common for art to affect us emotionally and as such, it happened for Natalya with this Symphony. Throughout the music she found emotional parallels of misery, despair, and sadness. Indeed a depressing finding in art but these types of moments can lead to a sense of peace rather than further turmoil which is what Natalya found.

5. Sergei Rachmaninoff | 2nd Symphony
I was flabbergasted when Natalya said the 2nd Symphony by Rachmaninoff and not a piano concerto or some other piano piece. That is almost sacrilegious for any pianist. But, she merely said, “if you want to know who I am, then listen to Rach’s 2nd Symphony”. There you have it – get to know Rach’s 2nd Symphony and you will know the wonderful and dear person that MICA has come to befriend.

I highly recommend you looking further into Natalya and her organization Russian Chamber Music Foundation of Seattle. They produce memorable performances and she is an island treasure.