Oak Harbor's performing arts center

"Would you go see the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, a touring Gilbert and Sullivan musical or Tony Bennett in Oak Harbor if there was a new theater on the waterfront?Members of the Whidbey Arts Foundation are betting you would, along with a lot of your friends and neighbors. The group's board of directors recently worked with a local artist and a Mount Vernon architect to create a preliminary design and conceptual drawing of an envisioned 450-seat, multi-purpose performing arts theater.Rick Almberg, the chairman of the foundation's finance committee, said the proposed $2.5 million building, appropriately named the Old Town Performing Arts Center, is designed to look like a 1920s and '30s movie theater so that it fits into the old town look of Pioneer Way.Inside, the space is designed to be flexible. There will be room for an art gallery and a 450-seat theater that can be made smaller with moveable walls. There will be an orchestra pit, practice rooms, classrooms and a large stage.While the center will be located in Oak Harbor, Almberg said it is meant to be a regional facility with a mission of bringing culture and art to all of Whidbey Island. But to make the concept a reality, Almberg said the non-profit Whidbey Arts Foundation needs strong community support and $100,000 to kick off a corporate grant-seeking campaign.If you can demonstrate that you have the land, the community support and have raised a fair amount of cash, corporations will jump on board, he said, adding that a variety of corporate and public grants could be available for the project.So far, Almberg said the group has more than enough land and some community support, but raising the money is the main obstacle. The board has created a goal of raising the first $100,000 by July 1, 2001, and building the center within five years.The $100,000 will be used to finance preliminary work, like a building plan, a business plan and grant applications. Almberg said the group members plan to raise money through local donations and fund-raising events while fulfilling their mission of bringing some culture to Whidbey Island. Last weekend, the Foundation and Frontier Chevrolet put on A Little Night Music at Almberg's house. Trio Encore, a trio made up of local musicians Sharon Ringer, Kimberly Breilein and Ute Freund, played a repertoire that included Mozart, Bach and Gershwin.On Oct. 17, the Foundation is bringing Late Nite Catechism, an interactive, one-woman, off-Broadway comedy, to the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. Almberg said the performance is the longest-running stage play in Seattle history.It's hilarious, he said. Tickets are available at the Daily Grind and Pony Mailing and all proceeds go to the performing arts center project.Dick Johnson, a board member of the Whidbey Arts Foundation, is also working on re-starting the Whidbey Island Jazz Festival and turning it into a fund-raiser for the performing arts center.While fund-raising continues, Almberg said the board will eventually have to decide where to locate the center.They have choices. The Freund family has offered the Whidbey Arts Foundation a parcel of land on Beeksma Drive. Bill and Kathleen Massey have offered another piece on Pioneer Way across from the Little League fields. Also, members of a Chamber of Commerce committee that is trying to find a developer to build a convention center on the waterfront have also offered to incorporate an arts center into that design.Almberg said administrators from the Skagit Valley College wrote a letter expressing interest in using the center for its expanding liberal arts department on Whidbey. Almberg said that could be a good match, since the college could use the center during the day while there are performances at night.The use of the performance space, Almberg said, would be decided by a center manager and the board of the Whidbey Arts Foundation. He said the foundation and other groups will likely put on local plays and musicals, but the foundation would also bring in bigger ticket names from Seattle and other areas.Oak Harbor is a rare pearl in the Puget Sound region, he said. It could be the cultural center of the region.To contact the Whidbey Arts Foundation, call 240-9974. Send donations to 316 SE Pioneer Way, Box 320, Oak Harbor, WA 98277.------------You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at or call 675-6611. "

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