Center: Where Past and Future Come Together
By Bruce Morser
One of the first, and most important, decisions for any building project is so basic as to be almost taken for granted: Where to build? I’m on the Board of Vashon Allied Arts (VAA), and together with the staff, we studied this question in depth for over two years before concluding that the southeast corner of Island Center, adjacent to the Blue Heron building, is the ideal location for a unique Island arts facility. Our thinking can be grouped into three general categories.
1) The project is more than a just new building – it is an interactive arts campus. When Kay White first offered the inspiration and seed money to develop an acoustically sophisticated, Island-sized concert hall, a wonderful vision began to emerge. If a flexible performing and visual arts building could be designed to work in collaboration with a renovated and reconfigured Blue Heron, great opportunities, as well as solid economies, could be generated for all arts-oriented Islanders. Additionally, if the space inside each building were planned to work in concert with the spaces between and around each structure, the result would be a unique multi-use arts campus.
Like the current Blue Heron, the campus’ new building will not sit quietly between performances, rather it will be a hard working, around-the-clock educational facility with a theater, art gallery, classrooms and support facilities. Rooms designed for flexibility will serve either as classrooms, dressing rooms or green rooms depending on the immediate need, thereby reducing the redundancy of two remotely located structures. Administrative offices might be also consolidated in order to maximize space, while saving both money and communication headaches. Equipment and strategies to maintain both structures would also simplify. The close proximity of the two buildings plus an outdoor space – all designed to work together – would be efficient and programmatically exciting.
Another benefit about using VAA’s three adjoining properties is that by restoring the eastern most acreage, and preserving its wet lands, the campus gains not only permits for required off-street parking, but also a beautiful new park-like setting.
2) It’s best for families and children. One of VAA’s programming hallmarks is to involve Island kids at all levels. Developing the new arts campus at Center allows Chautauqua Elementary, McMurray Middle School and Vashon High School students easy pedestrian access to after-school arts classes. Campus pathways will connect with existing paths to assist students walking from these schools. The more we studied the land surrounding the VAA properties, the more we realized the untapped potential to establish an educational neighborhood including all school district buildings and existing interconnecting trail system.
3) It returns Center to its historic roots. The Blue Heron building, originally constructed in 1912 as the Odd Fellows Hall, is a significant piece of Vashon’s historic Island Center. Few local buildings can claim Island grown “drop-siding,” and even fewer can claim such a long history of public use. When Center was first established as one of Vashon’s original intersection villages, the four corners were equally divided between private mercantile concerns and public spaces, two churches, a school and a gathering hall. I am probably not alone in appreciating the small pedestrian feeling of Center, and VAA sees a real opportunity to add important public space to the wonderful, historic mix of businesses already there.
Building any facility requires lots of careful research, thinking and rethinking. I’m confident that VAA has quietly done its homework on this project. Whether you’ll eventually watch or participate in an evening concert, take an arts class or simply grab a cup of coffee at Minglement before visiting the gallery, advantages of developing VAA’s facility at Center seem too good to pass up.
Please watch for our continuing series of articles concerning the new arts campus here on the website, in future Island Arts publications, the Beachcomber and the Loop.