PORT TOWNSEND — It’s a merger, a marriage — and soon a birth announcement.
Two of the North Olympic Peninsula’s largest nonprofit arts organizations, the 11-year-old Northwind Arts Center and the 5-year-old Port Townsend School of the Arts, have begun the process of merging into one entity with a new name, the executive directors said this week.
Talk of joining has gone on for years, but “it wasn’t until the coronavirus that we said, ‘Remember when we were just dreaming about merging?’ ” said Michael D’Alessandro, Northwind executive director.
Soon after, both nonprofits’ boards began discussing in earnest a new organization.
“We decided early on to completely change the name, so it does have the flavor of something new,” D’Alessandro said.
At a time when arts organizations face perilous challenges, these two aim to combine their strengths, said Teresa Verraes, PTSA’s executive director.
With its programs for children, teens and adults, the school “does education beautifully; Northwind does exhibits beautifully. Northwind is really the premier gallery” in town, Verraes said.
She and D’Alessandro envision “a third pillar: an artist support network.
“We’re hoping to bring a thriving arts community forward” by promoting artists’ work and professional growth, Varraes said.
Income from art sales and classes, she emphasized, fuel the creative economy here.
“The times are so uncertain,” she acknowledged. “We know there’s some struggle ahead … but this is also a creative time, a time to do things differently.”
Working together, Northwind and PTSA can do more of what they do now: art shows in their galleries and online; classes and artist studio visits; promoting Port Townsend.
On their respective websites, “you can have this whole experience: see work and hear from the artist,” Varraes said. “We really want to be able to share what we have here.
“We want to brand this community as an artists’ haven,” to locals and to those who explore this place online.
“We can’t rely on tourism,” she added. The challenge is: “How do we bring people here, without having them walk through the door?”
Northwind and PTSA already have multifaceted presences online.
NorthwindArts.org lists visual, literary and performance art programs alongside its Artist Showcase 2020 exhibit, which features 34 painters and sculptors from across the region.
PTSchooloftheArts.org details dozens of online classes and the “Postcards from Home” exhibit and auction, and for those who want to visit the school’s Grover Gallery from home, there’s a nine-minute virtual tour of its current show featuring creations by Max Grover, Meg Kaczyk, Chris Witkowski, Kim Kopp and Julie Read.
The five artists narrate the tour, talking about inspiration and process.
“There’s something about that connection,” Verraes said, that spurs investment: art sales numbers have climbed into the thousands since the virtual tour went up in June.
Meanwhile, the Northwind Arts Center gallery and the school’s Grover Gallery have cautiously reopened.
Northwind, at 701 Water St., allows up to 10 people inside from noon to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday; the Grover Gallery, which has traditional art plus artist-made masks for sale at 236 Taylor St., is open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
D’Alessandro said the next steps on the path to merging include the examination of “our due-diligence documents,” both legal and financial.
The organizations’ boards of directors plan to wrap that up in the next week or so, and in August move toward formalizing the merger agreement. Negotiations will continue, and the public is welcome to provide input via the websites’ contact links or at the galleries, D’Alessandro said.
Even as online offerings proliferate, Verraes expects Northwind and PTSA to keep their locations, including the downtown galleries and the school’s center in Building 306 at Fort Worden State Park.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, PTSA had just added three staff members for a total of five, and there were no layoffs, she said.
“Our board made the decision to keep our team intact fully, to move classes online and innovate together,” Verraes said. “We’ve built a whole online platform; we’ve actually ramped up instead of shuttering. PTSA has been piloting several of the programs we’ll offer under the new organization’s umbrella,” including the virtual tour.
At Northwind, everyone except the executive director and the bookkeeper was laid off, and those two staffers had their hours reduced. Now, D’Alessandro said, all of the center’s workforce is returning, at 75 to 100 percent of capacity.
Northwind’s live music programs, such as Arts to Elders and the Northwind Songs showcase, are still gone, but he hopes to bring them back via online streaming.
“Even though revenues are down, our support is up,” Varraes said. “Both Northwind and PTSA are in strong positions. We are definitely not teetering on the edge.
“Our donor support and fundraising at the end of the year are going to be critical.”
This period of time is like serious dating, she said, with the organizations getting engaged later this summer, marrying in the fall and having a party, aka a fundraising event, in early December.
The merger “is really an expansion,” Verraes said.
“It’s about imagining our arts community five, 10, 20 years from now.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.