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Boost art, help economy

When tourism consultant Roger Brooks presented his initial ideas last year, Nancy Sanders felt something was missing.

In a word, art.

As the owner of NS Frames in downtown Oak Harbor, she has a keen interest in art and understands that artwork can be a vibrant economic engine for a community, especially by boosting tourism.

She realized art isn’t just missing from Brooks’ plan, but from the city in general. After all, it’s a community without even one permanent art gallery.

“We have not materialized the necessary components to factor art into the economy of Oak Harbor,” she said. “This is a city with some imbalance in the arena of aesthetics. Can you imagine Seattle without a symphony? ... Langley without WICA?”

As a result, she formed an informal arts commission and spent the last year researching how other communities use art to boost their economies. Last week, Sanders presented her proposal to the Oak Harbor City Council.

She proposed that the city pass an ordinance creating an official arts commission to help direct the community’s investment in the arts. She stressed that artistic community projects wouldn’t be an alternative to the Brooks tourism plan, but could be a part of it.

She presented a grand proposal of turning the old Copeland Lumber site on Highway 20 into an arts haven, with a sculpture garden, a stone labyrinth, a bistro, rare books, interactive children’s art and more.

“The free PR would be amazing,” she said. “This is a sow’s ear that you can make into a silk purse.”

Also, she worked with teachers to start a kinetic art competition at the high school. She envisions metal sculptures, like miniature versions of the famous Hammering Man at the Seattle Art Museum.

“If you want amazing people to come to Oak Harbor,” she said, “then you have to do amazing things.”

Interestingly, Sanders said was inspired by her “pin impressions” toy. The gadget allows people to create three-dimensional images of their hand, face and so on. She said the artistic toy can amuse children and even adults for long periods of time.

She said the toy helped her realize that community artwork can be something fun and interesting.

“If you want someone’s attention,” she said, “you have to have something that attracts them.”

In fact, Sanders has designed a giant, 30-foot-long pin screen that she hopes to place at an arts center she hopes the city will build. While many children’s museums have pin screens, she said her design is completely original.

Last Thursday, Sanders wowed the council members with a computerized slide-show presentation, focusing on how communities from Mount Vernon to Tokyo have made “arts a priority for tourism and the well-being of its citizens.”

An artist in Regent, North Dakota, boosted the economy of the area by placing sculptures, including the world’s largest metal sculpture, along the “Enchanted Highway.”

“Many small towns across the nation know that art is good business,” she said.

Yet Sanders said Oak Harbor shouldn’t just copy the other communities, but create a vision that is unique to the community.

In the end, Sander warned that bringing art to the community will not be an easy road. Art is controversial. She said there will always be people who don’t “get it.”

And there’s money. While the city can apply for a variety of state and federal grants to support the arts, the community will also have to make an investment.

At this point, the ball is in the city council’s court. Sanders and other members of her loosely-knit arts commission are waiting to see if elected officials will take the next step.

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