PORT TOWNSEND — By next summer, five large-scale “art markers” and up to 60 smaller, artistic directional signs will allow for self-guided tours throughout the Port Townsend Creative District, effectively putting the area’s many artists and makers on the map.
“We are blessed with such a wonderfully creative community here, and this will help people tap into that,” said Mari Mullen, executive director of the Port Townsend Main Street Program, which is acting as a kind of steward for the still-fledgling Creative District.
This month, Main Street was awarded a matching grant of $24,500 through the state Arts Commission and the Department of Commerce for the $49,000 wayfinding infrastructure project, which must be completed by June 30.
“Even though this is a small-scale investment, it will help us long into the future, and it’s something people can do on their own while socially distanced,” Mullen said.
The Port Townsend Creative District Subcommittee raised $12,250 from local businesses and community organizations, and the city of Port Townsend has agreed to contribute $12,250 of in-kind assistance to install the signs, Mullen said.
“A lot of people stepped up, and that was really amazing,” said Kris Nelson, chair of the subcommittee, which will meet today to discuss next steps for the project as well as a host of other Creative District initiatives. “We’re going to talk about what will those art markers look like and where exactly will they go.”
Port Townsend’s Creative District, which was certified by the state Arts Commission in May, is one of eight such communities in the state. It encompasses the downtown and uptown commercial historic districts as well as the Fort Worden Commons, which will soon include a complex of buildings known as Makers Square.
Two art markers would be sited downtown, two uptown and one at Fort Worden, while the directional signs would be placed along walking, bicycling and driving routes, which are still in the works as part of the project.
The subcommittee will work with the city’s arts commission, which Mullen said will discuss the project at its Nov. 4 meeting, to hire an artist who will create a logo as well as design the signs and the markers.
The subcommittee also hopes to include QR codes on the markers that would direct people to a website with more information about artists, makers and the Creative District’s story.
“We’re trying to not confine what an art marker specifically is or looks like at this point,” Nelson said. “We’re hoping an artist can take what little we come up with and turn it into something special and original.”
The Creative District’s overarching mission is to create a sustainable, year-round economy through the local arts and culture industry that supports a broad range of creative professions, including visual, literary, performing and culinary arts as well as makers.
“We’re trying to allow all of those people who work in this community to have a job year-round,” Nelson said.
While the markers and signs will be the first physical manifestation of the Creative District, they are a relatively small piece of the work ahead for the subcommittee.
It plans to create a registry of artists, organizations and venues representing the area’s broad range of creative professionals, Mullen said.
It’s also seeking funding to hire a consultant who will develop an arts and culture plan for the next three to five years, informed by a survey, community meetings, and input from artists and other stakeholders.
“This is all about supporting economic resiliency through the arts, which is even more critical in the time of COVID,” Mullen said, noting that the subcommittee is also still wrestling with how to make the Creative District financially sustainable, whether through festivals, a membership program or some other model.
“We were wanting to do an arts festival as a fundraising tool and to showcase our artists, but that’s on hold,” she said. “It was initially going to be for this fall. Even now, we’re not sure that will possible for 2021, but we’re hopeful.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at email@example.com.