Village by the Sea gains creative district designation

Langley has officially been designated the fourth “creative district” by the Washington State Arts Commission.

Currently, only three other cities in the state hold the same honor. Those cities are Edmonds, Chewelah and Olympia.

Among the requirements for a creative district is that the area in question has to be walkable, supported by the surrounding community and to have a concentration of arts and cultural activities.

After a year-long process of applying, a committee of invested South Whidbey organizations saw its planning and hard work rewarded with this official designation.

“The primary thrust of the creative district is economic development, with a focus on the arts as a vehicle for that economic development,” said Mary Ann Mansfield, the committee’s chairwoman and spokeswoman.

The Village by the Sea’s creative district, titled Langley Creates, decided to focus its strategic plan on rehabilitation of the southern part of the city, such as the old middle school property and the fairgrounds.

According to a press release, the committee includes representatives from Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, Readiness to Learn, South Whidbey Schools Foundation, Island Shakespeare Festival, Langley Arts Fund, Langley Chamber of Commerce, Whidbey Island Dance Theatre, Langley Arts Commission and the Port of South Whidbey.

WICA is serving as the administrative organization for Langley Creates and has donated time and resources to help receive state certification, the press release stated.

Annette Roth, the state’s program manager for the creative districts, said the partnership with the Port of South Whidbey has been a unique feature of Langley’s creative district. Plans are still being developed for the South Whidbey Harbor.

Although the committee started off as part of the Langley Arts Commission, it is now an entity separate from the city or any other organizations. It is supported by the Chamber of Commerce and the Langley Main Street Association.

Mansfield said being labeled as a creative district adds “a major feather” to the committee’s “caps” when applying for grants, especially for the rehabilitation work committee members would like to see completed.

She hopes they will be able to apply for grants with arts-based organizations or urban renewal groups to come up with projects at the old middle school, now the South Whidbey Community Center, to repair roofs, paint murals and redo landscaping.

“There’s a lot of emotional connection with that old building, and I think getting an alumni association to actively participate in rehabbing it would be a great thing,” Mansfield said.

Making the bus barn parking lot less of an “automotive rodeo” when people come for events is also a priority, as is adding lighting and possibly sculpture installations near the fairgrounds. The latter would help designate a visible sign to tourists that they are entering Langley.

Next up, branding for Langley Creates will commence, with the development of a website and a logo.

“It was an absolute labor of love, because nobody brought their ego to the table,” Mansfield said of the committee. “Everyone was just there to be helpful and play as a team and bring their best creative self and sense of humor, and it was just fun.”

She added, “I think that that spirit will sustain and carry us through, particularly in light of the huge economic disaster we’re in the midst of. We’ve got to do things differently, and I’m hoping Langley Creates will be a catalyst for that difference.”