History

Becoming who we are

Our Journey

The Southwest Washington Center for the Arts boasts a rich history of passion, collaboration, and tireless perseverance. Since its conception in the late 1960s, the notion to build an arts center in Vancouver has undergone many forms, passing the torch across generations of visionaries and arts champions. Today we carry that torch as we reflect upon what our history has taught us. Though our journey isn’t over, we are inspired to embark on the next steps to bring this long-awaited dream to fruition.

  • 1967

    Vancouver citizens formed initial plans to build a Center for the Arts after in-depth studies with solid leadership. As the third largest metro region in Washington State today, Southwest Washington is the only populated area of its size without a dedicated arts center.

  • 2002

    Members of Clark County Leadership proposed a performing arts center, envisioning three center designs in collaboration with architects from Vancouver and Seattle. An initial board of directors was recruited with representatives of the arts community, creative industry advocates, and an elected official of the city and county.

  • 2003

    Southwest Washington Center for the arts was organized in the spring of 2003 and was incorporated in December of 2003 as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation to construct a world-class performing arts facility in Clark County. Val Ogden joined the board of directors as co-chair at this time.

  • 2004

    The committee visited and researched sites in Oregon and Washington to gather information about building and operating a performing arts center. A grant from the city provided funds to contract with AMS, a nationally recognized arts consultant, to do a feasibility study.

  • 2005

    At a workshop facilitated by John McKibben, President of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, the board refined its mission and established new committees.

  • 2006

    In June 2006, the organization hired Arlene Johnson as Executive Director and an office was opened in the Hidden building on the corner of Grand and Evergreen.

  • 2008

    In January of 2008, another feasibility study was authorized. Five sites were considered for proposed development, but planning was largely postponed due to the Great Recession of 2007 - 2009.

  • 2009

    The economic downturn brought any further site research to a halt. Although grant funding had ended, a passionate team of volunteers assumed responsibility for office management and the monthly arts newsletter. Organization was relocated to a desk in the office of the Vancouver Symphony.

  • 2011

    Elected officers made plans to submit a letter of intent to the City of Vancouver to purchase land on one of Vancouver's Historic Sites, a move strongly supported by the Superintendent of the Historic Site. However with no paid staff, a challenge faced the board before they could proceed. Once a strong team could be recruited, the organization would have the capacity to carry the project forward.

  • 2012 - 2017

    The Southwest Washington Center for the Arts remained mostly inactive during this period, with one feasibility analysis completed in 2016 by Hobson Advisors and Walrus Arts Management Consulting, and one conceptual design study by Ankrom Mosian in 2017.

  • 2018

    With significant funding dedicated, the organization was reactivated in response to several events highlighting the timely need for a dedicated arts center. The symphony was forced to move to Skyview High School because its venue at the Royal Durst Theater was too small. The North Bank Gallery's closure created even less space to showcase our local artists. Kathy McDonald was hired as Executive Director and newly revised plans were put into motion to determine the best location and configuration to move the project forward.

  • 2019

    The Center for the Arts completed three new studies for the project: an Economic Impact and Return on Investment Assessment, a Feasibility Study, and a Sustainability Study. Assessment of all recent reports confirms the optimal timing and local demand for a center for the arts in Vancouver. Support staff and specialized consultants were hired for administration, marketing, and development and appropriate sites were identified and explored.

  • 2020

    In early spring, efforts toward location assessment, proposal development, and community engagement transformed in innovative ways. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Center for the Arts launched an arts and culture newsletter highlighting opportunities to promote local artists and arts organizations. The Center also initiated a recurring focus group where arts leaders can connect, share resources, and navigate challenges collaboratively. As the project continues to develop within our evolving context, the Center for the Arts has committed to redefine what it means to experience great art by re-imagining how to accommodate a future for the arts in Vancouver.

Ours is a story of resilience.

Now is the time for revitalization.

Vancouver is ready.