Council creates arts commission

Oak Harbor is a city with plenty of pavement, strip malls, fast-food restaurants and a sewage treatment plant in the middle of a waterfront park, but not much in the way of arts and culture.

Soon a new group will be working to change that.

The City Council unanimously passed an ordinance creating a city arts commission Tuesday night, at the end of a long, long meeting.

A handful of arts enthusiasts sat through the entire meeting just to hear the ordinance briefly discussed.

“The arts is something that is lacking in Oak Harbor,” said K.C. Pohtilla, a local photographer. She added that there are “people who do incredible art in this town.”

City Councilwoman Sheilah Crider agreed. She pointed out that local artists have to go to Langley or other towns to sell their works since the city of Oak Harbor has no galleries.

The idea for an arts commission comes from Nancy Sanders, owner of NS Frames on Pioneer Way.

Sanders spent a year researching how the city can promote and incorporate the arts. She felt that artwork was missing from city tourism consultant Roger Brooks’ plans for downtown and waterfront revitalization.

Sanders gave a presentation to the City Council last month in which she highlighted how many other communities foster the arts. She noted that the arts can be a strong economic engine for a city.

In response, City Attorney Phil Bleyhl drafted a ordinance establishing an arts commission, which he said is based on a Tacoma ordinance.

The 11-member board is supposed to foster the arts and cultural programs, encourage the local arts community, coordinate with other arts organization and develop a program for public arts.

The commission will also look at ways to fund arts projects. City Finance Director Doug Merriman said he is researching how other communities fund artwork by earmarking a percentage of capital construction projects.

The ordinance states that the mayor and council “should endeavor to obtain a diverse cross section of Oak Harbor’s residents as members,” as well as artists and those involved in the arts.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Crider said.

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