Artfully Edmonds: Reflections on arts summit — how to involve young people in arts?

Arts Summit participants enjoy a catered lunch in the gymnasium (who knew ECA had a basketball court?)
Arts Summit participants enjoy a catered lunch in the gymnasium. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

On a gorgeous Saturday morning—what keynote speaker Randy Cohen referred to as a “Chamber of Commerce kind of morning”—over 200 artists, arts organizers and business owners convened at the Edmonds Center for the Arts to discuss the future of Edmonds arts culture.

Mayor Dave Earling called the convention to gather ideas from the existing arts community about how to cultivate more fertile grounds for the arts in Edmonds. In the keynote address at 9 a.m., Randy Cohen of Americans for the Arts spoke to us about how arts events attract business not only in the arts industry, but also for bars and restaurants, hotels, schools, and the city itself. He also made the oft-forgotten point that a thriving arts community attracts, above all, more artists. This was what I kept in mind in the sessions that followed.

We broke out into smaller groups to tackle the problems of funding, PR, video promotions, collaborations, and community engagement. Being the two-months-old arts media expert that I am, I naturally went to the PR Media Panel, led by Elisa Murray of Parent Map magazine, Pat Ratliff of the Beacon, and our own Teresa Wippel. These breakout sessions were meant to introduce people from all facets of the arts community to the resources that already exist for artists in our town. The editors gave us all tips on how best to submit stories and pictures to their publications, and, prompted by audience questions, all three promised to post submission guidelines on their websites. What makes an art story a good story is the human interest aspect; why your event is important to you, who is involved and why, and how the whole thing got started. I invited anyone who would like to share their stories with me in person to email me and set up a time to talk—and I extend this invitation now to any of my readers holding arts events in the near future.

After lunch (thanks, Panera!) we really got down to business. I sat in with the art-makers’ brainstorming session because I hoped that they might reveal the most about what attracted them to Edmonds, and how they have found community support. We talked about what is working in Edmonds arts culture—arts co-ops such as ArtWorks, the ECA, a mayor committed to the growth of the arts, and a high concentration of creative people—and what’s lacking—funding, studio space, residences for visiting artists, communication between organizations and the community at large, and (my favorite topic) young artists! It turns out that the three other discussion groups came to more or less the same conclusions. In order to develop the art scene we want, there are three areas that need drastic improvement.

Communication. Two groups suggested a city-community liaison to support Frances Chapin and the arts commission in reaching out to artists and art audiences, coordinating a calendar of events and an on-line resource site for visitors to Edmonds. It was also suggested that we come up with a travel package that highlights some of our most popular arts destinations, bringing more tourists to Edmonds on the ferry and on trains.

A physical space dedicated to art development. ECA’s conference rooms were brought up as a possible space for artists to keep studio space, and give demonstrations and classes.

Diversity. Across all boards, people agreed that we want to see and support art from people of all age groups, ethnic groups, and regions.

We already have people in place that can respond to the first two needs, and I expect that they are beginning to figure out how to do so even as I write these words. The more difficult question to approach is: Where are all the young people at? Our public high schools have some of the top art and music programs in the state, and yet there seems to be a shockingly low interest in the arts among the age group defined as “young adults” (18-35). I hope I’m not offending too many people when I say that coming back to “Deadmonds” was the last thing I wanted to do out of college. And from the severe lack of 20-somethings in this town, it appears that I was not alone.

Young artists need young audiences, and young audiences need a reason to come to Edmonds. The prospect of displaying art only to have it be misunderstood by an older generation is intimidating, and potentially disheartening for a developing artist. It would be wonderful to see some kind of peer review group spring up out of these discussions. How the current arts groups in effect will create such a space is beyond me, but I am more than willing to become involved in the efforts to bring a few fresh faces to the Edmonds arts culture.

I hung around after the closing remarks to talk with the attendees I could pinpoint as belonging to my generation about how to create more open doors for young adults in arts.

Nathaniel Cook, who works with his father at Bull Trout Jade, is worried that the lapidary arts are going out of style, so is working to get other young people educated and interested in stone carving. There is plenty of jade coming out of the mine in Darrington, but not a lot of demand for it generally in the arts community. He already sees our generation as the future of his business, and recognizes that he needs to be responsible for creating a demand for his supply.

Nathaniel isn’t the only young person taking initiative to create the market he needs to be successful in the arts. Nathan Proudfoot, a photographer who has struggled to build his business, recognized that there was no single comprehensive event calendar for Edmonds. Even before this conclusion was reached in the four separate discussions during the Summit, Nathan created “It’s an Edmonds kind of page,” a Facebook page highlighting major events in Edmonds. He has also been talking with My Edmonds News about hosting such a calendar, that he would manage.

When I spoke with the Development Manager and Outreach Coordinator of ECA, the two young women were coming up with brilliant ideas on the spot. They immediately recognized the difficulty of drawing young artists into the scene dominated by our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. At one point in our conversation, the Development Manager remembered the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Network, and I could see the gears turning in her head as she mulled over how to include the group in an arts event—how to get the conversation started among young people in Edmonds.

The entire summit was filled with moments like these—but when you get 200-plus creative people in a room together, what else can you expect? I have high hopes for the future of the arts in Edmonds. I heard from so many people with ideas already in the works about how to change the arts scene here. Two that stand out are an online gallery and the possibility of a design institute (expect to hear more about this in the near future…it’s a very exciting concept and I don’t want to jinx it by revealing too much).

In addition to the inspiring ideas that came up in conversation, people were invited to stick Post-it notes on the Big Board of Big Ideas. The following is just a small sample of what this creative crowd thought up:

– A maritime Celtic music festival

– Combined ticket packages across several venues

– A city subscription to major arts magazines (ArtNews, Art in America, Art Forum)

– A writers’ salon

– Rehearsal space at the ECA

– An artists’ recycling center to share or trade materials and resources (that one’s mine!)

Mayor Earling left us with the remark that the last thing he wants to hear is “Oh, wasn’t this such a great event, let’s do it again next year!” when we could instead be focusing our efforts on addressing the problem areas identified in Saturday’s conference. The Edmonds Arts Summit was an inspirational and fruitful morning, and I can’t wait to see what comes of it.

– By Juliet Brewster

Artfully Edmonds columnist Juliet Brewster, an Edmonds native and Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate, has a degree in literature from Bennington College. To have your arts happening listed, email her at

  1. I recently worked with children making fine art at the Edmonds Arts Festival 2013, and was told over and over again by parents that they had to LEAVE Edmonds to find REAL art, fine art lessons for their children. ………..Art News (over 100 year old publication), Art Forum and Art In America should be magazines read regularily by anyone in the art community in this city…..It is the CUTTING EDGE, NEW and FRESH that move forward the historical culture of ART in the world……………..That IS the EXCITING world of Fine Art! This community has a potential to be at the forefront of the new art of our time and with the help of engaging young people, supporting real fine art, and being open to NEW possibilites which IS the CULTURE of Fine Art through history, this little town can be on the map nationally/internationally as a Fine Art Destination. It also is a plus that this place that we live and work in by the sea, mountains and sky doesn’t get any better than this……..That alone is inspiring!……..Big money spending patrons and art supporters know the difference between art wannabees, tourist art, beach art, etc. and Fine Art. The global culture of fine art is where the economics are highest and this IS a possibility for this town. It is about everything new and fresh, NEW IDEAS!

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