Whidbey artists create website, social network for the island

The advisory group for WhidbeyArtSource network site is, back row, Anastasia Brencick, Zia Gipson, Michael Stadler, Sandra Whiting, Bridget Fischer, co-founder Sue Taves and Claire Moore; middle row, Robbie Lobell, co-founder Jan Shannon and Sharon Shoemaker; and Robbie Cribbs in front. - Robbie Cribbs photo
The advisory group for WhidbeyArtSource network site is, back row, Anastasia Brencick, Zia Gipson, Michael Stadler, Sandra Whiting, Bridget Fischer, co-founder Sue Taves and Claire Moore; middle row, Robbie Lobell, co-founder Jan Shannon and Sharon Shoemaker; and Robbie Cribbs in front.
— image credit: Robbie Cribbs photo

FREELAND — Whidbey Island is home to hundreds of visual artists who do myriad forms of work. Recently two of those artists, Sue Taves and Jan Shannon, had an idea to create a place online for artists to communicate. Such a site would also act as a resource for non-artists to gain access to the Whidbey Island art world.

With the help of a community advisory group, Taves, a sculptor, and web designer Shannon launched Jan. 2, and by Jan. 11 the site had 80 members.

“Ideally, I hope that this site will be a unifying force for the visual arts community,” Taves said. “I hope it will provide a way to make the visual arts community on Whidbey more visible in the region.”

Not only does the site act as a kind of directory for finding information about visual arts on Whidbey Island, including artist profiles, events, gallery listings, art businesses and other art oriented groups, but it also provides its members and visitors with a Facebook-like atmosphere for group conversation and social networking. The “activity feed” is similar to a person’s “wall” on Facebook, and conversations, posts, photos and links flow through the site via its members everyday.

“I really hope that folks will have fun using it and make new connections,” Taves said.

“Selfishly, I hope I will meet even more cool people and have a forum to talk and learn about art and artists,” she added.

Member artist Zia Gipson sees the site as a community of support.

“We are just beginning to see people on the site help each other,” Gipson said. “That’s very much part of [Sue and Jan’s] vision from the beginning that they would sort of launch it and maintain it but that the community would rise up, like many online communities do, to be supportive and help shape it,” Gipson.

There were 200 visits to the site in the first 48 hours of the launch, so Taves and the others were immediately impressed by the traffic.

What this group hopes to see for the site is that it will demystify the art-making process and make it easier for people to develop their relationship to art, whether they are a longtime professional artist, an emerging artist or a person who simply enjoys art.

The site has an easy to understand “User Guide” page which clearly explains how to do everything from subscribe, search, make comments and create a slideshow for your member page. On the “About Us” page at the bottom is a cleverly made video titled “Our Story” which shows what can do. Watch it for useful information or just for its entertainment value.

But what’s different about this site from other online art forums researched by Taves and Shannon is that even non-members can go to the site and make comments.

Artist member Robbie Cribbs uses a visual metaphor to describe it to friends.

“There’s the gallery in front, the cafe beyond that and then the private rooms for artists to chat,”  Cribbs said.

The front section of the site, he explained, is for the general public to schmooze with the artists and see what they are doing. But if one is a member, you can go even further in and find a closer look at what the artists are doing, and become more engaged in the conversation.

“People can get involved even if they are not members,” Shannon said.

“It’s a hybrid portal that allows for more inter-activity. There are two sides to the site: the inner side for members and the outer side for visitors, who can see the conversations between artists.”

Members can go in and change things on the site, add photos, events, a portfolio and content, while Taves and Shannon maintain the site and make sure it remains current.

“Even if I’m just a visitor, I can have a conversation with a basket

weaver on Whidbey I’ve never met if I’m in California or wherever,” Shannon said, “and I might think, ‘Well, I’m visiting Whidbey next month and will want to take that class.’”

Gipson said she hopes that it will also provide an impetus for setting standards among artists; with an encouragement toward professionalism and perhaps a boost for emerging artists.

“I hope one of the byproducts of it is that you’ll see individual artists improve their professional presence on the web,” she said.

“It will create a standard for people to professionalize what they do; take their art more seriously, realize they need to add a portfolio, maybe launch a website. This quality standard that the site is setting is a good thing for people who do, in fact, want to be taken seriously as artists,” Gipson added.

The beauty of it is, Taves said, it can be different things to different people.

“It allows everybody to informally mentor each other, and people can get out of it whatever they want to get out of it,” she said.

“I kind of see the whole thing as a social gathering with a purpose. I love to discover all the new artists and talk to them, find out what they are doing.”

Free support sessions are available on the site for registration and the site will be linked to the Island County Tourism Arts and Heritage tab.

For more information visit or email



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