PORT ANGELES — The $50 million Fields Arts & Events Hall is important to the future of Port Angeles and through contributing to economic development will aid in solutions to such challenges as the lack of affordable housing and food insecurity, said participants in a “community conversation.”
“What a magical place this is going to be for this community, said Michael Greer, president and CEO of the Seattle-based ArtsFund.
He was the keynote speaker at a gathering on Monday that offered information about the potential value of Field Hall, now under construction on the Port Angeles waterfront.
The arts are a key economic driver, especially in the state of Washington, Greer said.
The meeting was the third of Field Hall’s community board meetings and the inaugural “community conversation” sponsored by First Fed. It included respondents from the community and a panel of speakers moderated by Terry Ward, publisher of Peninsula Daily News.
Citing figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Greer said the arts accounted for 4.2 percent of the national gross domestic product (GDP) or $876 billion, in 2020.
In Washington state, the arts accounted for 10.3 percent of GDP, one of the largest in the country, despite the fact that the state is among the lowest for public funding, Greer said.
He added that the arts provided 180,262 jobs in the state.
“In most communities, $1 spent on a ticket provides $3 in community spending,” on such things as restaurants and lodging, Greer said.
The arts provide a tax basis, jobs and second-tier opportunities, he said, defining the latter as the jobs providing essentials such as HVAC, set-building or contract work behind the scenes.
The arts also help to create a better quality of life, Greer said.
“What do arts and cultures do? They make people happy,” he said.
Arts also can contribute to youth development and education and help people medically, Greer added, citing as an example the use of dance classes for Parkinson’s patients.
He asked that people “re-imagine the role of the arts in the community.”
Some brought up questions of relevance of the huge center to a community facing heavy challenges.
There are those “who feel the optics are wrong in stepping over somebody sleeping in the street on the way to the box office,” said Dr. Mike Maxwell, North Olympic Healthcare Network CEO and one of the respondents to Greer’s speech.
He said some were asking if Field Hall represented an investment in arts in lieu of social investment.
After Greer’s presentation, Ward asked Steve Raider-Ginsburg, executive director of the Field Arts & Events Hall and a member of the panel discussion, how he would he answer critics who ask — in light of issues such as food insecurity, mental health, addiction, affordable housing — if the $50 million couldn’t be used better somewhere else?”
Raider-Ginsburg quoted the late Dan Wilder, Sr., who he said told him: “We overbuilt. We overspent. But we did it because of purpose. We knew we needed a conference center … for the economic development and future of Port Angeles. We wanted this to be state of the art. … We’re trying to get ahead of the curve, creating not only what we need now but what we will need in the future.”
City Manager Nathan West, a panel member, said: “We could spend eternity working on short-term problems and not making an investment in the future.”
Field Hall “is something that raises the self-esteem of this community. … It’s a really worthy investment when you think about it.”
Frances Charles, chair of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and a panel member, said the tribe, which plans a hotel downtown, is looking forward to partnering with Field Hall. The tribe will contribute to the larger complex planned around the hall.
“Culture means a different thing for native tribes,” she said. “How can we enhance tourism here and also have an opportunity … It’s an opportunity that we see here.”
Ward asked how the city can ensure that small businesses not be priced out of downtown as well as the effect on affordable housing.
West said the city has “over 512 units in process right now,” and spoke of policy changes and zoning codes.
Wendy Sisk, Peninsula Behavioral Health executive director and a panel member, also spoke of the challenges of creating affordable housing.
In a recent survey, the biggest concern by far was the lack of housing, said Colleen McAleer, executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council, one of the respondents.
She and others said Field Hall can be part of a total package of solutions for the community by sparking economic development.
“Everyone recognizes that Field Hall will be a transformational asset not only for Port Angeles but for all of Clallam County,” McAleer said, asking, “how do we ensure that the city of Port Angeles” grows in a manner that will benefit all?
Marty Brewer, superintendent of the Port Angeles School District, said arts in schools right now are funded only by EP&O (educational program and operations) levies.
“How do we work together to give a great experience to all students in our community?” he said.
He said he has been asked why the Field Hall was needed when the town already has the Port Angeles Performing Arts Center at the high school.
The two complement each other, Brewer said.
Christine Loewe, Port Angeles Fine Arts Center executive director, brought up the question of how more partnerships can be created.
The presentation can be seen on YouTube by going to fieldhallevents.org/livestream.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].