Between Assignments: Supporting local arts during the pandemic

Dave Earling (Photo by Jon Anderson)

Being in and around “the neighborhood” for decades, it has been marvelous for me to see the evolution of Snohomish County and in particular, South Snohomish County. One of the chief delights has been the growth, quality and maturity of the arts movement across South County — centering, I suppose, from my background as a musician, trumpet player, conductor and music educator at Shoreline Community College from 1967-1978.

When I was at the college, we had important South County performance and arts groups such as the Driftwood Theater, the Cascade Symphony and the Edmonds Arts Festival. My chief contact at the time was actually with the high schools like Edmonds, Woodway, (separated at that time) Mountlake Terrace, Meadowdale, Shoreline and Shorecrest — all of which had outstanding art, drama and music programs. My focus, of course, was the music programs. Although I recruited throughout the region for my program, the students at the high schools mentioned above were the core of our success at the college. That high school quality still exists today! The instrumental program at Shoreline CC grew from 34 in my first concert group to over 200 when I left 11 years later.

Since that time, South County — and Edmonds in particular — have grown with a broadening interest, sophistication, expectations and understanding the quality of life the arts brings to us. The number of diverse groups, events, individual artists, writers and arts facilities have exploded, and with the quality of the various individuals and groups, the city has become known regionally as an important arts player.

How many cities in the Puget Sound the size of Edmonds have their own symphony, choir, two dance companies, an arts festival, two drama venues, a writers conference, art galleries and studios? Inject into the mixture the well-known Edmonds Center for the Arts and the Cascadia Arts Museum, and the City of Edmonds’ own arts programs — as well as the quality programs in the school district — and you have created success.

Along with the well-established arts community, we have attracted quality restaurants, which have drawn their own followers. In fact, I often hear from friends outside of Edmonds about how they make a point about going to lunch before the beach or to dinner before the Center for the Arts performance. Mix in the restaurants, other quality retail and professional businesses, the arts and our well-loved and utilized seaside setting and… help create a vibrant community…..a Daytime Destination!

Enough of the happy talk. If you haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of a pandemic, which has devastated the country and the world. Locally we have endured much for the past five months. Making adjustments necessary to our lives to deal with the virus seems unending. Among  the challenges we have to face as a new reality are the limitations such as school closures, closed businesses, loss of employment, financial hardships, and a virus which is making some of us ill and others we know die. We now have begun to “open up,” but there are always emerging challenges, including the recent spike in the virus. We all are faced with the potential for some unknown period time, looking for improved therapies or vaccine to be found.

The local arts and culture scene has been dramatically compromised — in fact, devastated — the past five months. Many individual and major programs have canceled in part or completely depending on when events are scheduled or the length and timing of their season. No matter, the loss of the arts and culture activities are impacting our quality of life. Examples of individual once-a-year events are the Edmonds Art Festival, the city’s Summer Concerts in the Parks program, Art Studio Tour, Music in the Library program, the EPIC Writer’s Group and the DeMiero Jazz Festival. Remember too, many other community jobs have been lost, including restaurant, retail and business positions.

Many major groups canceled the remainder of their season. Examples are the Cascade Symphony, Sno-King Choral, Driftwood Theater, Phoenix Theater, Olympic Ballet, Barclay-Shelton Dance and the final scheduled performances at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. Many of these groups will and are thinking about their next season, perhaps beginning in the fall or even next year. Knowing the challenges of the still-lurking virus and potential demands for size restriction of audience and social distancing in programs will impact planning. Yep, we are back to social distancing, masks and hygiene with the community’s ability to comply with the state guidelines and which phase we are in.

While many of our art galleries are now open, the Edmonds Historical Museum and the Cascadia Art Museum are closed.

None of this paints a pretty picture. We the public are missing bits and pieces of what we value about Edmonds…..arts and culture. Jobs in the arts are lost (the single highest Washington unemployment category is in arts and entertainment…29.48%), performers lose contact with their large group ensembles, and individual artists struggle with marketing their work.

The Driftwood, the Cascade Symphony and others are not generating income. The Center for the Arts has a staff to pay and little in the way of revenue. The City of Edmonds loses tax revenue, and don’t forget, our restaurants and other businesses in part are more successful with the regional and local customers coming to town for the arts and culture provided.

We as supporters of the arts have a few ways in which we can actively make a meaningful contribution. An easy way, of course, is to make a financial contribution to the artist or group of your choice. An even easier way is for all of us to give our support and take more seriously the battle with the pandemic. I say this believing many, even most of us, are fully engaged to protect ourselves and community. But we still need improvement. We are in the second phase, trying to get to the third phase of recovery. Until we achieve Phase 3 and Phase 4, the arts and culture scene in Edmonds, the county and the state will remain stagnant.

I know this community has built a tremendous legacy in many different ways. We take great pride in the quality of life we have built for ourselves and our children. We — whether actively involved in the arts and culture of Edmonds or not — understand it enriches our community and is an important driving force in our success. We too will get through this, but with everyone doing their part.

— By Dave Earling

Former Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling is a music educator and business owner. He and his wife Susan have three adult children and four grandchildren.

  1. Strongly agree, we are so fortunate that Edmonds is a place for artistic expression. And I would add that in this time of awakened feelings about of racial equity and historic injustices, despite the polarizing politics, it is to art and the arts we should look for healing and a way forward.

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