PORT TOWNSEND — Friday night, the music’s on and so are the colors. Collage materials, charcoal, paper and paint are ready for you, the artist. Snacks are laid out. None of it costs money.
This is the message about The Bunker, an open studio for artists ages 14 to 18. It’s held every first and third Friday of the summer at the Port Townsend School of the Arts, that funky place at Fort Worden State Park, 200 Battery Way.
So this Friday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., art teachers from the school will come in and host while working on their own projects.
The Bunker began last month, born of Port Townsend artist Mike Biskup’s idea for a place for young people to express and explore. He, along with compatriots including Julie Read of Port Hadlock and Port Townsend High School art teacher Michele Soderstrom, envisioned an open, safe, creative haven — a bunker with wide tables and sketch pads.
It’s happening. Attendance went from two in June to eight in July, and there’s plenty of room for more, said program manager Julie Christine.
Mollie Fain, 17, recently moved to Oak Harbor and, wanting to meet people, came over to The Bunker.
“I hadn’t drawn for a couple of months. This was a chance to get back into it,” she said.
Fain then started volunteering with the school’s art camp for elementary-age children. And she returned for more Bunker time.
“It’s not a class; there’s no set curriculum. If you want to chill and work on your own project, you can do that,” said Christine, adding that participants stay for the whole three hours unless they have parental permission to depart early.
Teenage artists bring their sketches and paintings in progress; they can use their own supplies or the school’s. After this Friday, two more Bunker nights are scheduled Aug. 3 and Aug. 17 — with the potential for others later in the year.
To sign up in advance, which helps the school provide ample snacks and supplies, visit ptschoolofthearts.org/ and click on the Open Studios link. Participants also can drop in, and Christine asks that they arrive to sign in shortly before 7 p.m. For information, call the school at 360-344-4479 or email [email protected]
While there’s no fee, donations are welcome, Christine said.
“I’m absolutely hopeful,” she added, about reopening The Bunker, perhaps with grant funding, after school starts again.
Read, who teaches classes at the nonprofit Port Townsend School of the Arts and other venues around town, knows how it is to be new on the art-making path. She started painting in 2011 in a class with Port Townsend’s Max Grover. A cofounder of the School of the Arts, he’s the one who created the paint-emerging-from-tubes image on The Bunker’s web page.
Now showing and selling her work in galleries near and far (see www.artbyjulieread.com/), Read is an enthusiastic Bunker mentor.
“I was a wild and crazy teen once, who could have resisted a lot of trouble had there been a similar opportunity for me at the time,” she said.
Read and the other professional artists spending Friday nights here encourage young people to set creative goals and, she said, “view art as important and worthwhile.”
The Port Townsend School of the Arts, which offers classes, open studios and retreats for adults in many art media, exists to give people of any age a place to be themselves, Christine added. She and her crew believe in art’s power to connect heart, mind and body. They believe too in the link between art and mental health.
Offerings such as The Bunker, she said, are “a joy for us.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.