Community-driven: Whidbey Island Center for the Arts expands

Built by the community for the community, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley celebrated the end of Stage Two. And it was only possible after raising more than $2.1 million to expand and renovate the building.

A new dressing room was built as part of the recently completed Stage Two at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

Built by the community for the community, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley celebrated the end of Stage Two.

And it was only possible after raising more than $2.1 million to expand and renovate the building.

WICA opened its doors in May 1996 after a 10-year grassroots effort to build a community performing arts center on South Whidbey. The original effort involved raising more than $1 million to construct the 246-seat theater that hosts year-round music, theater, dance and film events as well as educational camps and conferences.

About 10 years ago, WICA began offering five productions per season. As the community asked for a wider variety of events, “it soon became apparent that the facility simply could not support the increased activities. All five employees plus numerous volunteers were sharing a tiny space, and sets were being built off site or out in the parking lot. There was no storage for costumes or props, and actors dressed in tents out back,” said Kris McRea, capital campaign manager for WICA.

The Stage Two campaign was launched in the fall of 2007. More than 280 individuals, 20 businesses and eight foundations contributed to the campaign, plus volunteers and board members who donated time, McRea said.

“Thanks to many supportive and passionate South Whidbey individuals and organizations, incredible volunteers and the many local contractors, WICA has built new dressing rooms, the Puget Sound Energy Green Room for performers to gather before a performance, the Whidbey Telecom/Henny Family Technical Center for set construction, the fabulous Zech Hall rehearsal hall and terrace and the Ric Prael Administrative Offices. The actors, set builders, directors, staff and other volunteers all greatly benefit from the added space,” McRea said.

Paul and Pam Schell, WICA board members, have been involved at WICA since its birth. Paul, former mayor of Seattle, and Pam, co-chair of the Stage Two campaign, have long been involved in the arts and settled on South Whidbey because of its strong connection to the arts.

“It’s really a big part of what makes South Whidbey work,” Schell said of the arts.

That didn’t make raising $2.1 million easy, though. The group started raising money right before the recession hit. The fact that they were able to raise so much money during the recession says a lot about the community, Paul said.

“Art is what really brings our community together and feeds our soul,” he added. “Too often, the arts get treated as a nice thing if you can afford it.”

Instead, the arts enrich the lives of the people in the community, Schell said, and they should be treated accordingly.

Pam encouraged people to visit WICA and experience what it does for the South End.

“It’s really a tremendous asset we have in the community,” Pam Schell said.

“I don’t think people really understand what a wonderful treasure we have here,” Paul added. “I don’t think people really appreciate that we can live in a place with such incredible talent.”

The Schells have attended plays all over the world.

“What’s going on here is truly incredible,” Paul said. As owners of the Inn at Langley and the Boatyard Inn, they direct visitors to WICA.

“They come with low expectations and leave with ‘Wow.’ That’s always fun for us to hear,” Paul said.

WICA continues to accept donations to Stage Two toward finishing funds for lighting and sound, as well as supporting the minimal debt incurred.

Tickets are available for “Becky’s New Car” and other shows at WICA at or by calling the ticket office at 221-8268.

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