Fresh blood, new ideas: the Island Arts Council builds a buttress for art

A bit of spit and vinegar and some new ideas with the talent to back them. That’s the recipe being followed by both the old and new faces behind the Island Arts Council.

Joe Menth

A bit of spit and vinegar and some new ideas with the talent to back them.

That’s the recipe being followed by both the old and new faces behind the Island Arts Council.

The 11-member board of directors of the Island Arts Council is full of new blood and fresh ideas. That, coupled with the experience of the council elders, has positioned the nonprofit buttress to become a formidable force for the island’s art community.

Having been formed 28 years ago, the Island Arts Council helped to plant the seeds that would blossom into several arts community successes on the South End, some which remain under the auspices of the council, while others having become strong identities in their own right.

The Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, the thriving 12-year-old Langley center for theater, music festivals, community events and other cultural entertainments, was lent a helping hand in its fledgling beginnings by the council.

Other projects, such as the Whidbey Island Open Studio Tour, which just finished its 12th successful year, has remained a production of the Island Arts Council exclusively, as has Jim Freeman’s monthly poetry slams at the Dog House Tavern.

You may have also seen the Island Arts Council sponsorship logo in and around the Choochokam Arts summer festival, where the council’s booth informed festival goers about the annual end-of-summer Open Studio Tour and the benefits of IAC membership for artists.

The logo was also visible where poets read while lit lovers listened under the poetry tent at Island Coffeehouse during that same festival weekend.

The council has also provided support to the Saratoga Chamber Orchestra, the Whidbey Island Music Festival and to individual artists who have used the council’s sponsorship as supplemental support for artistic events.

Basically, the council seeks to act as a catalyst for artistic growth.

It strives to be a resource that supports and encourages artists and patrons in the arts community.

Ultimately, the exclusive projects of the Island Arts Council provide the council with the means to foster art education by providing scholarships to students of art and by partnering with school-based arts programs.

Every year the council doles out thousands of dollars to island high school seniors who plan to continue their study of art in college.

Lately, with its newly revived and determined board, the council has a mind to reach new heights as a prominent clearinghouse for artists and students beyond the south end.

Joe Menth is the fairly new board president who said he wasn’t entirely sure what his role was when he was elected to lead the board in 2006. This ambiguity was a direct reflection of the undefined path the council found itself on after some dissipation of purpose.

But Menth didn’t let that stop him, and has rallied his troops significantly in the past year and half.

“My hope is to see that we regain the public’s enthusiasm around the power that this council can provide throughout the entire arts community,” Menth said.

As the owner of Fine Balance Imaging Studio, a printing company that works closely with many of the island’s artists, Menth — an artist himself — sees a pressing need for artists.

“There are literally thousand of artists on this island,” he said.

“There hasn’t been a central support where artists can go when they need help with larger projects. We can be that support.”

To that end, the council has gathered an impressive group of professionals to pepper the leading body with valuable expertise.

The board includes a banker, a marketing specialist and graphic designer, a longtime nonprofit arts administrator, a professor, several working artists and a music teacher, among other talents.

Frank Rose, a longtime former board member from the early years, rejoined the board recently to head a new project for the Island Arts Council.

Rose, along with newest member Sue Symons, director of the Coupeville Arts Center, formed the arts in education committee, and together they have taken on the Whidbey Arts in Education Consortium project.

The committee is in the process of applying for an Arts Education Community Consortia Grant, which is awarded annually by the Washington State Arts Commission. The grant encourages communities to implement arts education in local public schools, pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

The grant supports the utilization of local resources through the formation of partnerships between educators, artists, arts organizations, parents, businesses and community members.

“A consortium is one way to create those strong supports in the arts community,” Rose said.

It’s a forward-thinking move to get public school teachers and local artists certified to teach art, and is directly in line with the Island Arts Council vow to partner with school-based arts programs.

Rose said he is inspired by the ideas of Esther James, an island potter who was trained also as an art therapist.

James asks the question of teachers: “How does nature and art together support children learning what they need to know … that they cannot be taught?”

The consortium’s mission is to manage and support a community effort that provides viable and sustainable arts programming for Coupeville and South Whidbey Schools in visual arts, performing arts and the media arts.

“Imagine what a snowball effect this consortium can have on the arts community,” Menth said.

The idea that every dozen years there will be a new graduating class of students who have been exposed to the energy and imagination of the creative process.

“It’s been proven that students do better in the long run if they are exposed to art at a young age,” Menth said. “We’re getting the ball rolling to have the arts permeating every aspect of our lives and to set a new precedent for what kind of arts community we have the potential to become.”

The Consortia Grant will be a first-time grant with a budget of $10,000 with the focus on teachers and artists seeking state certification.

The Whidbey Arts in Education Consortium plans to match the grant award of $5,000 through cash donations, matching funds, pledges and in-kind services. To date, the Island Arts Council has pledged $1,000 and the Coupeville Arts Center has pledged in-kind facilities, management and administrative support totaling $6,000. The Whidbey Island Dance Theatre is the most recent partner and has begun the process of deciding what the company can contribute with in-kind support. The consortium continues to seek other partner organizations.

The positivity of the arts in education project is a reflection of the Island Arts Council’s new energy to foster and sustain the local arts community in as many ways as possible.

“We’re creating a strong foundation for the community and for art,” Menth said.

To find out more about the Island Arts Council Click here.

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