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With three vacancies on the board, ACC members assess how to get more people involved

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - The St. Helens Arts and Cultural Commission talk during a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 25. The ACC currently has three vacancies and is looking for new volunteers to join.The St. Helens Arts and Cultural Commission is evaluating its next steps, the result of vacancies on the commission, high recent turnover and questions from current members about what projects the community would like to see in St. Helens.

ACC Chair Lisa Brooke said the transition period is a natural lull following the multi-year fundraising and implementation effort focused on the Gateway Project Phase II — the Salmon Tree Cycle sculpture on Highway 30 — installed last year.

"I've thought about this lately, and I feel that that the commission had a lot of long-serving members and there was a big apex with the Gateway Project Phase II, and then it was like years of work to make that happen, and I think it's actually very natural that membership would change," Brooke explained. "And the energy level would change, and that everyone that was part of that, I think, needed to take a break. It seems like a very natural thing to me to have a lull right now."

In the wake of the Salmon Tree Cycle sculpture's completion, several long-serving members stepped down. The current commission has taken on smaller-scale community projects and has worked to connect more directly with residents on community-based art.

The commission launched a "Kindness Rocks" project that calls for decorated rocks to be left in various locations in the community. It also helped organize a grant funded and supported blues workshop at the St. Helens Public Library over the summer. Programs like that also promote the cultural aspect of the commission, member Leticia Juarez-Sisson explained.

Commission vacancies have hamstrung some of the efforts, however.

"Without more people being part of the conversation, there's a little bit of a lull." Brooke said. "We don't know how much we can commit to one project because we don't know how many man hours we have.

Additionally, with the establishment of the city's recreation program, many of those small grassroots projects seem to fit better under that umbrella. That has led to a bit of an "identity crisis" for the commission.

"Where I think a lot of this is stemming from is, a lot of us are newbies," Juarez Sisson said. "A lot of the original board felt like they had done enough for us and they wanted some fresh ideas to come in, and that's where we're at."

In December the ACC launched a series of monthly meetings called "Art, Coffee & Conversation" as a way for residents to talk about art and cultural events they would like to see in the community.

Based on feedback following the Gateway Sculpture installation, which showed as a mix of positive and negative on social media, some board members wanted more community input on what projects they would like to see.

"We really want the community to come out to the conversation events so we know the direction they want us to go in, because after all the Facebook backlash about the Gateway Project, it would be good to know what people actually want in the community," commission member Patrick Nickerlson said.

Members are also keen to emphasize they are looking for anyone to join who has an interest in community service, budgeting or any other skill set that could benefit the commission's mission.

"It's very, very important to know that you don't have to be an artist or do any kind of art," Brooke said. "I think that you just have to have an interest in arts and cultural, and just come and figure out how you plug in with some of these things."

The ACC will be hosting another Arts, Coffee & Conversation night on Oct. 11 from 5 to

8 p.m. at Running Dogs Brewery.

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