Centrum Executive Director Rob Birman speaks to about 60 people at Fort Worden about the Port Townsend Main Street Association’s effort to apply to become one of the state’s first Creative Districts. (Brian McLean/Peninsula Daily News)

Centrum Executive Director Rob Birman speaks to about 60 people at Fort Worden about the Port Townsend Main Street Association’s effort to apply to become one of the state’s first Creative Districts. (Brian McLean/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Townsend organizers advocate for Creative District

Organizers seeking state designation for year-round arts economy

PORT TOWNSEND — When organizers first looked at defining an area for a state-certified Creative District, they went for it all — from Upper Sims Way to the south all the way to Fort Worden within city limits.

“This is what they said was probably not going to be competitive,” joked Rob Birman, the executive director of Centrum.

Birman presented the concept Wednesday night during a meeting at the Fort Worden Commons that drew about 60 people interested in how the arts and cultural industries could sustain a year-round economy.

One way would be through hosting an annual event, Birman said.

While the focus areas have tightened up, they still include the retail sections of both uptown and downtown Port Townsend as well as the Fort Worden Commons, which will include the Makers Square buildings next year.

Organizers have until Oct. 4 to submit an application to the state Arts Commission, which has granted three communities — Edmonds, Chewelah and Olympia — the certified Creative District designation.

That allows them access to $5,000 in grant funds and recognizes opportunities for growth in the marketplace, according to the state program.

“There has to be broad interest,” Birman said. “This turnout is impressive, and we thank you for that.”

Port Townsend’s effort would get off the ground in the first three years with a focus led by the Main Street Program with a governing board of city officials and 15 to 20 partner representatives.

It plans to support the visual, literary and performing arts along with culinary arts and makers.

“We want working artists to be able to live off their art, if that’s the life they choose,” Birman said.

State-certified Creative Districts are supposed to be contiguous and navigable, two factors Port Townsend advocates will have to defend.

“We feel we can make the case for the district to have two zones,” Birman said.

Eventually, organizers hope they can secure a grant from the Jefferson Community Foundation, hire a consultant who specializes in economic development within the arts, and potentially find financial support from the city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Board to help it become self-sustaining.

“Our objective is to connect audiences with artists to foster a vibrant local arts community,” Birman said.

Main Street Program Board President Kris Nelson and Port Townsend Public Library Director Melody Eisler took audience questions, many of which focused on the concept of a year-round arts economy.

Eisler took notes at an easel with audience suggestions regarding some of the biggest challenges they’ll have to overcome. Those included spaces to live and work, transportation, parking, communication and connecting people within the arts community so they aren’t competing with each other.

One suggestion for a major annual event was to hold a makers fair to highlight what community members have to offer. Audience members said more people would be interested if others from across the state and Pacific Northwest were invited to participate.

Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson, who has been involved in the planning stages, said what makes the city unique is that an arts district already exists.

“It’s here, it’s real and it’s authentic,” she said. “It’s not something we need to create.

“Arts and culture is a big part of who we are, and I think this just builds on that.”

Nelson said volunteers will be important to set the organization apart from others, although they’re still planning how to work through an annual budget.

Some towns have been looking at implementing a tax, and others are considering a membership model.

“We want it to be a regular thing,” Nelson said. “If it’s membership, we want it to be optional — a choice.”

The audience answer was to have both access and equity.

“We really want to understand what the artists need, and we want to get them on a list and share it,” Nelson said.

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].

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