Methow Arts Alliance is a model for other communities
TWISP — The Methow Arts Alliance is expanding its role to make an even bigger impact on the thriving arts scene in the Methow Valley while continuing to foster arts education throughout Okanogan County. I sat down recently with Amanda Jackson Mott, the executive director, to catch up on the organization’s efforts to foster a thriving arts culture.
There is a growing trend, Mott says, of art festivals going green by reducing waste. So this year, the festival is going all out for sustainability, with no straws being used, rope replacing zip ties and reusable tablecloths rather than ones to be thrown away. It is significant that this is a community-driven initiative; supporters have stepped up to help fund the additional one-time costs.
Mott is a member of the Washington State Arts Commission and is on the board of the Leavenworth-based Icicle Fund, which funds conservation, history and music projects. She’s convinced both organizations to offer tiered grant levels with smaller and more simplistic grant applications to make it easier for tiny nonprofits to participate. That’s another community-building approach.
One of the things I deeply appreciate about the Alliance is how much time, energy and resources they put into creating arts opportunities to other parts of Okanogan County beyond the Methow. They fund programs at the Paschal Sherman Indian School on the Colville Reservation, and in a number of other schools. Mott believes that exposure to the arts is a vital part of an education rather than an add-on. In today’s economy, fostering creativity in young people is essential.
Mott, who grew up in New Mexico and earned a degree in social work from the University of Chicago, came to this valley a dozen years ago. “This place spoke to me,” Mott recalled, echoing a refrain I have heard from others who have moved to this remarkable valley. She has a deep passion for figuring out what a community needs and working collaboratively with other organizations to make that happen. The spirit of collaboration and cooperating continues to evolve in this part of North Central Washington.
She recalled that there used to be times when a more competitive mindset was found here when promoting and organizing community events, but today everybody seems to promote all events rather than pick and choose. That’s the sign of a healthy community.
As an arts mecca, this valley is definitely becoming well known. Mott figures there are perhaps 100 artists working the valley, including photographers. The arts vibe in the region, Mott said, has been helped immensely by the collaborative spirit and partnership of such organizations as TwispWorks and the Confluence Gallery. TwispWorks, located on a campus that formerly housed the Twisp Ranger Station of the U.S. Forest Service, has been a catalyst for nonprofits, education and businesses. The Confluence Gallery has been another key collaborator by being a space to show art and also host other events.
The Methow Arts Alliance is expanding its space by moving to downtown Twisp and is also elevating its role to meet the needs of the local arts community. The organization will be offering support to artists and arts organizations through workshops, training, marketing and networking assistance, Mott told me. It’s a role that fits with her training in social work and her passion for finding ways to maximize the positive community impact.
One project Mott is excited about is overseeing a $60,000 call to artists to create a gateway on both ends of Twisp. Fifteen artists, most of them local, have submitted concepts to be considered, which will further create a sense of identity for the town. The selected artworks will be announced in August.
Arts education remains a key focus for the Alliance, and Mott is proud that they pay artists $30 an hour when they go to classrooms to work with students. The program brings local artists beyond the confines the Methow Valley to schools without art programs.
What struck me most about our conversation was that Mott sees the community as an interconnected web of relationships and is working to foster the sense of collaboration to strengthen not just her organization but also the community as a whole. And underneath the day-to-day effort is a goal of creating a sense of place and belonging for the people that live here. That’s how healthy communities grow — through an evolutionary process that draws upon the creative talents of local citizens and that honors the past while creating the future.
This is an organization that other communities in North Central Washington should look to as a model for developing a healthy and agile arts community.
Here’s a link to the Methow Arts Alliance web site