Oak Harbor approves consultant for new arts plan

The Oak Harbor city council approved a professional services agreement to develop a city arts plan.

Unanimously, the Oak Harbor city council approved a professional services agreement to develop a city arts plan.

The $75,875 job was awarded to Seattle-based consulting firm, Framework, whose client list includes Bainbridge Island, Bellevue, Issaquah, Kirkland, Lakewood, Langley, Olympia, Poulsbo, Pullman, Sammamish, SeaTac, Sequim, Shelton, Spokane, Sultan, Tacoma, Tukwila, Vancouver and others.

In April 2023, Island County, Coupeville, Langley and Oak Harbor voted to cost share the creation of a comprehensive economic development strategy overseen by the economic development council. During this process, the arts commission’s number one priority was creating an arts and culture plan, said parks and recreation director Brian Smith.

Other priorities the commission set included identifying placemaking opportunities, fostering stewardship of existing arts programs and artists, developing partnerships and engaging stakeholders around the city, celebrating diversity, promoting arts and cultural events, pursuing funding and labor and establishing a policy for the procurement of art.

“The idea is really to have a uniform guidance in how we present the city, so it’s not such a patchwork,” Smith said. “We understand the character we want to present to the world, and we build upon that shared vision.”

Jim Woessner, while overall acknowledging the need, was the first councilmember to state his apprehension.

“This is some serious money, and I’ve said it before. With my upbringing, this almost kills me that we are going to spend $75,000 on this,” he said.

Oak Harbor, unlike Seattle or Olympia, likely doesn’t need such an expensive consultant, he said. Anacortes’s art feels cohesive, and they didn’t spend as much.

“It was more community driven,” he said. “It was more based locally. It was more based upon what the town kind of says what the feel is, right? And I realize we’ve struggled with that, and that’s the reason why I support this, because we’ve struggled.”

The art direction in Oak Harbor has been a many years-long discussion, he said, so this consultant should end that discussion.

The recommendation of such a consultant has been vetted by staff, council and the arts commission, Woessner said, and he trusts that system, but because of the price he has high expectations.

Oak Harbor has a track record of expensive plans that are never implemented, he said.

“I just want to be real clear, I’m not expecting a pretty-colored book that goes on a shelf out of this,” he said. “I’m really really expecting the direction that we can all look at and say, ‘yeah, that’s Oak Harbor. That says Oak Harbor.’”

Woessner expects Framework to participate in a lot of public engagement and base their work on citizen input, he said. Changes need to fit with Oak Harbor and enhance the city.

“You’re on fire,” Councilmember Bryan Stucky said to Woessner. “Good on ya.”

Woessner’s concerns are exactly why the city needs Framework’s plan, Smith said.

“When I look back at the city’s previous efforts and expenditures around public art, I see a lot of directionless decisions that probably have cost the city more money than it should have spent,” he said. “I hope that this will be an implementation document that guides and directs decision making to make sure we are all on the same page and not special interest decisions being made.”

The $75,875 comes from a greater arts budget of $248,500, Stucky said.

“This is coming out of the arts budget that can only be used for arts, because there’s always the, ‘well, that should have been spent on the roads.’ This isn’t coming from the funds that can be spent on the roads,” he said. “I just want to hammer that point home.”

Councilmember Shane Hoffmire’s support was also reluctant.

“I think the horse is barely breathing, so I’ll tread lightly,” he said. “I hate spending this amount of money when we can’t properly maintain our parks, when we can barely properly staff our (police department), I hate spending this amount of money. However, it is for the arts fund, and it can only be used for arts related items.”

Since the budget is so limited in what it can be used for, developing a solid plan is a great way to spend it, said Councilmember Eric Marshall. Having a plan is always in the city’s best interest.

According to the Framework proposal, Oak Harbor’s new arts plan will be submitted in September.