We had another all-community visioning session on July 28 at the Mercer Island Community Center. There were about 25 islanders in attendance and we gladly were surprised by the number of walk-ins, but our goal has been to reach every Islander that wants to have a voice.

We began by reinforcing that this was a “visioning” session and our hope was for the room to think big. And they delivered! There was plenty of robust discussion about the greater value of arts. In general though, the conversations stayed close to the themes we’ve heard so far around the desire for more community-building, the need to increase collaboration between arts groups, and a hunger for more arts-related activities. We heard many comments about existing community spaces being too crowded and how tired some residents are of having to shuttle their kids off island for activities. Many agreed that whatever the space ends up being, it should be inviting and open to all.

 

There were also comments about the importance of providing access to the arts for all, because this sometimes results in homegrown artists making a name for themselves in the mainstream (which then becomes a source of pride for the community). We also heard excitement about potentially bringing new life to the town center and having more reasons to stay on the island for entertainment.

 

We’d be remiss not to point out that while a majority of the conversation was positive, some participants approached the discussion more concern than others and brought some valid, important questions to the table. Most of the concerns expressed that day reinforced what we’ve heard before like cost, parking and long-term sustainability.

Something that surfaced more often in this group than in others was the enthusiasm for intergenerational programming—that a potential arts and culture center should not just be focused on youth/young people but also involve older adults who have yet to discover their talents. When asked about specific programming needs, most individuals had their list of personal favorites, but some responses went in an unexpectedly inspirational direction! Some groups talked at length about the broader significance of art in people’s lives, about the power of art to build community, and about the lifelong value of engaging in or with the arts. In fact, someone even talked about art as “food for the soul.”

 

In the next few weeks, we will be interviewing many of our board members to assemble a brief, personal profile on each of the people behind MICA! Our fourth interview was with Prady Misra.

Mr. Misra first got involved with MICA in 2014. He joined the board hoping to give back to the community that he has lived in and raised his family in. Misra also mentioned how he used to think that kids either played sports or participated in the arts, but then he found out that a lot of kids, including his youngest son, not only do both, but have a talent for both. Misra was the president of the basketball booster club, and started to see the disparities in support for sports teams and arts groups. He believes that kids involved in the arts should receive the same advantages as those who play sports.

Misra described himself as a “high-tech person.” He works in astronomy and physics, but told us that he thinks that “art makes us human. We all inherently enjoy good art.” He believes that art brings us together and makes a more well-rounded person. He has noticed that in his field, “people who have a better artistic sense are better engineers, designers, etc.” He also mentioned that he had recently attended a play at a Russian theater, and loved how he was able to understand the plot of the story, even without knowing Russian. He said, “you don’t need language, art is a language of its own. Its a key piece of our education, and makes [us] better humans.”

Misra believes that we need an arts center on Mercer Island because at the moment, all the “art is fragmented and confined. We have awesome resources,” but many of the arts groups are unknown. He wants MICA to not only be a place to “perform fantastic shows, but to take all the art in the community and put it together in one place. Then that place becomes somewhere that people go.” Misra knows that there are some potential social elements that are going unnoticed. He wants this to not just be a facility, but a place for interaction. In his opinion, we are missing that key component of interaction on the island, and with a place like MICA, we would see a better, more cohesive community.

Mr. Misra implores islanders to “feel that they are not helpless or disempowered.” He knows that currently, community members are “underestimating their own capability. Voices help more than money.” He hopes that people begin to “ask to friends, neighbors, elected officials: does it matter to you? Do you care?” Right now, “everyone is hoping that someone else will handle it.” His major message was to get involved. He asks his friends and neighbors to “participate in these events. Lots of arts groups on the island are more than happy to have you [help gain support]. Get involved, and then it begins to flourish. You don’t have to be an artist because you’re doing it for your friends, family, neighbors, and community.”

Keep an eye out for more board member profiles to come!

In the next few weeks, we will be interviewing many of our board members to assemble a brief, personal profile on each of the people behind MICA! Our third interview was with Xixi Shakes.

Xixi and husband Jonathan have been behind MICA since 2014, when they first heard about the exciting community effort to create Mercer Island’s own performing arts center. Since then Xixi has been involved with MICA in various ways, and in early 2018 she decided to join the board. 

Xixi was born and raised in Beijing, China. When she was a child, scholarship support enabled her to study flute from Xuequan Li, who was considered China’s top flute player. She joined the Beijing Youth Symphony, sang in choirs, and performed in student theater. She later met her husband Jonathan through their shared passion for the performing arts.  They moved to Mercer Island in 2002 to raise their two children, who are now teenagers and budding performing artists. Every year, their family attends a week-long performing arts family camp, “Camp Caz,” and together, Xixi and Jonathan spearheaded the expansion of that family camp from its original location in Sonoma California to its new, second location on Washington’s Key Peninsula, near YMCA Camp Seymour. 

After growing up in bustling Beijing, Xixi loved the tranquility and green space she found in Mercer Island, but she had to adjust to its sleepy, lights-off-after-6pm town center. The town center has changed since 2002, in both positive and negative ways, and Xixi believes the addition of a performing arts center will be a strong positive, providing vibrancy in a way that yet another apartment, office, or retail building cannot. It will elevate our community by giving us a place to gather around the arts, and provide substance to the community’s belief that we value the arts here. At a simpler level, it will address the current venue shortage that handicaps several of our community’s art organizations and groups.

Xixi urges her fellow Islanders to consider how MICA could benefit our community, and how our generation could leave a legacy through MICA for future residents to enjoy. She also encourages the many people who support MICA to share their voices.

This is an exciting time for MICA as an organization and for Xixi as a board member and a community member. She is thrilled to think that one day she can look at the MICA building and reminisce, “Hey, I was part of making that happen!” 

In the next few weeks, we will be interviewing many of our board members to assemble a brief, personal profile on each of the people behind MICA! Our second interview was with Virl Hill.

Mr. Hill grew up in an arts filled family, and as a kid took part in acting, piano, choir, plays, and musicals. He has always been around arts and culture, and is now involved professionally. Hill explained that he fully understands the vital role that arts can play in “educating our kids, providing an outlet for people of all ages, and bringing people together in the community.” He joined the board of MICA because he strongly believes that it is very important that arts are prevalent in any community.

Hill believes that there are both short-term and long-term reasons that we need an arts center on the island. Immediately, there are arts organizations on the island and in the surrounding area that are either in borrowed space, or not flourishing or reaching their full potential as they could if we had a space like MICA. This would also help the already existing MI arts organizations gain more visibility in the community. Also, as the island evolves, its important that the downtown does not just grow and expand, but that “downtown also has a pulse and an energy.” Hill believes that “an arts center can be that magnet.”

When asked how Mercer Islanders can support MICA, Hill explained that: “Its so easy. Just tell people that you care about this. Email the city council. Write letters to the MI Reporter. Participate in community visioning sessions. Be there.” He also stressed how important it is for the community to continue sharing feedback so that MICA knows what Islanders want in a future arts center.

Keep an eye out for more board member profiles to come!

 

In the next few weeks, we will be interviewing many of our board members to assemble a brief, personal profile on each of the people behind MICA! Our first interview was with John Gordon Hill.

Mr. Hill has been involved in the arts his whole life, participating in film and music in high school. He graduated college with a degree in cinematography and film making, and then started a film company. He has directed many Youth Theatre Northwest shows, and loves to play keyboard music. When asked why he is involved in the arts, Hill said that to him, that question is synonymous to: “Why do you breathe?” The arts are “not apart from his life”, instead they are a major piece of who he is.

Hill has also had a long history with the administrative side of the arts too. He was on the board of Cornish College of the Arts, and actually spearheaded the first campaign for Youth Theatre Northwest’s original theatre 34 years ago. So, when YTN lost its theatre in 2014, Hill knew that he wanted to help find a new location for the children’s theatre. With YTN’s support, he decided to reach out to other arts organizations in the area, forming the idea for an arts center where different arts groups could gather and celebrate the diversity and variety of arts and culture.

In Mr. Hill’s opinion, we need an arts center on Mercer Island because currently, we have no single place where the community can come together for the arts. “Everything is disconnected.” He explained that while we do have lots of arts already, if we do not “reach a critical mass, then [the arts are] not part of our identity.” He hopes that with MICA, we can revitalize the town center and give people a place to gather while providing a much-needed home for the arts on the island. “The arts are so broad: they are how we talk to each other and how we understand our world and our lives around us.”

Mr. Hill says that there are two ways that we can support MICA right now. First: talk it up. “Once we achieve momentum by word of mouth, then everything else will come much easier.”

Second: talk is cheap. “There will be a point when people need to put up money, energy, and work to make this a reality.” Hill acknowledges that this could be an expensive prospect, but also knows that Mercer Island is very capable of making MICA a reality.

Keep an eye out for more board member profiles to come!

 

 

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.