Within the next year, Whidbey Island may become home to a second creative district.
Leaders from the Pacific Northwest Art School have launched an effort to follow in Langley’s footsteps and have Coupeville declared an official creative district by Washington state.
Through certification as a creative district, a region or municipality becomes a focal point for arts-based tourism and economic growth. This designation allows the district to more easily access grants and other arts-oriented funding and promotes collaboration among various local agencies to support artists.
Art school Executive Director Lisa Bernhardt said she and other art school personnel have been floating the idea of applying for certification since before the pandemic began. Shortly before COVID-19 arrived on Whidbey Island, representatives from the art school and other Coupeville organizations met with a representative from the state to discuss how to begin the application process.
The pandemic put the process on hold for two years, but in January, Bernhardt and other community members picked the project back up.
The initiative is still in the early stages, Bernhardt said. She and others working on the application have created a mission statement, formalized an administrative organization, established community support and delineated some short- and long-term goals for the district.
The next steps will be to define the physical boundaries of the district and complete the application, which they hope to finish and turn in by the end of the year.
Bernhardt said Coupeville is a great candidate for creative district designation because of its status as a historic town, its natural beauty, its Indigenous history and its thriving community of local artists.
“We just felt like we are the perfect package,” she said.
Other local artists agreed with her assessment. Kay Parsons, a painter and president of the Whidbey Island Arts Council, said Whidbey residents have a penchant for locally made, artisan goods that extends beyond the arts into food, farming and business.
“We are a haven of the handcrafted, the handmade and art,” she said. “Everybody thinks about things that way up here.”
So far, there are 11 creative districts in the state of Washington. Parsons said certification as a creative district helps communities develop a cultural identity and drives economic development and diversification.
Parsons, who paints large-scale water colors of the flora and fauna found in her garden, said she expects Coupeville becoming a creative district would benefit her as an artist because all the economic growth spurred by the certification stays in the community. She and other operators of what she calls “micro-businesses” would all benefit from increased funding and development of Central Whidbey’s creative economy.
Coupeville-based multimedia artist Carol Leigh said designation as a creative district would benefit her and other local artists by bringing art to the forefront of Coupeville’s culture, allowing them to see and glean inspiration from one another’s work.
“It raises everybody’s consciousness about art, and it makes me excited to see what other artists are doing,” she said.
Leigh, who sits on the board of directors for the art school, creates collages that combine paint, photography and, often, things she finds in nature. She has been designated as the secretary of the creative district.