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Art school thrives with festival push
For 51 years, the Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival has been the event that gives back to the community.
From providing a venue for local artists to raising money for scholarships, the festival has been an annual boon to Coupeville. In fact, profits from the festival gave rise to another important Coupeville institution.
In 1989, the Coupeville Festival Association gave $25,000 in seed money to start the Coupeville Art Center. Today the school brings artists from all over the world and pumps a conservative estimate of $250,000 back into the local economy annually.
The concept of the Coupeville Art Center actually started in 1986 when a group of locals got together and decided they wanted a greater focus on arts education in the community with the support of the festival association, according to Judy Lynn, a local historian and former director of the art center. Lynn served as director from 1987 to 1999.
In 1987, the group held its first series of fiber-based workshops at Camp Casey, called Fiber Forum. There were 10 three-day workshops.
Additional workshops were added in the areas of photography, painting and mixed media with a workshop series called Photo Focus, Pallettes Plus and Needle Works.
“The seed money carried us through until we got our 501c3 (designation),” Lynn said. “It was essential. We didn’t have any money. We didn’t have any overhead. We didn’t have an office. We didn’t have a school.”
The center had very little overhead and required a minimum number of students to ensure costs were covered.
“The office was in my bedroom,” Lynn said. “We had to use what space we could find.”
Workshops were held at the local schools, Camp Casey, the Coupeville Recreation Hall and even the Island County Commissioners’ Hearing Room.
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the school found a permanent space.
The building, located on Northwest Birch Street, was originally used as furniture manufacturing facility, Lynn said. It required a lot of infrastructure changes and the majority of the work was done by community help.
“We had wonderful volunteers that made that all possible,” she said.
Right from the get-go, the center was attracting attention and bringing in high-profile instructors.
“We were bringing the very best instructors in the field,” Lynn said.
Reputation of the art school quickly spread by word of mouth, help from the Weaver’s Guild and by advertising in trade magazines.
Lisa Bernhardt, current art center director, said nowadays the school offers between 80-90 workshops during its regular season of April through October, runs an annual budget as much as $250,000 and serves about 500 students each year.
Of those 500 students, Berhardt said each year 60 percent of students are new.
The school features two classrooms and two gallery spaces. Faculty come from all over the world including Finland, Thailand, Australia and Russia.
Not only does the school bring high-caliber instructors, but the school also provides a beautiful environment and backdrop that inspires the arts, Bernhardt said.
Tuition covers 70 percent of the school’s operating costs, she said. The other 30 percent has to be fundraised.
The school, which also operates under the name Pacific Northwest Art School, applies for funding through the county’s 2 percent tourism tax.
Because of this, Bernhardt explained, the school keeps track, to a degree, of what students are spending in the community. Based on the estimated lodging and food costs, she estimates students spend an average of $250,000 annually in the community.
This does not include any spending outside of lodging and basic meals.
“It really does trickle down,” Bernhardt said. “Eighty to 83 percent of our students come from off island.
“The average workshop requires spending three nights lodging. That’s what we know.”
The school also tries to give back and be involved in a variety of ways, including hosting faculty lectures, community contests and being involved in community events.
“They’re really great for our community,” said Lynda Eccles, director for the Coupeville Chamber of Commerce. “They play quite a big part in tourism in Coupeville. They bring people from all over the world. I don’t think people who aren’t into the arts realize how important it is. I don’t think they realize what this art school does for our community.”