Opinion: Yakima Arts District Idea Shows Creative Thinking | Opinion

Leavenworth was a ramshackle lumber town before anyone realized its dramatic alpine setting in the northern hamlet of Cascades was a Bavaria lookalike. So they gave the place a facelift, started hosting festivals, and turned into one of the West’s favorite tourist stops.

Ashland, Oregon, meanwhile, has gained international acclaim with its beloved Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The year-round schedule of plays defines nearly every square foot of the small town near the California border and attracts thousands of visitors.

In both examples, the arts transformed a city. Architecture (both towns are strikingly different from neighboring towns), music (everything from oompah bands to authentic old English ballads), theater (OSF attracts the best actors from around the world) and craftsmanship (hey, someone has to brew all that beer for Oktoberfest).

So we look with interest and optimism to the Yakima Arts Commission seeking thoughts and ideas from local residents and businesses on how a creative downtown district could benefit our city.

The idea is to bring together a number of existing public exhibits, arts-based businesses, and other initiatives into a walkable, contiguous collage of creativity.

Once a more formal plan is in place, the local commission will seek state certification for its creative district. The request would go to the state arts commission, ArtWA.

If ArtWA were to approve the application, the district — which would eventually be overseen by a new nonprofit — would receive a matching grant of $5,000 and the possibility of other grants. That could mean $45,000 for a capital project, according to Yakima Arts Commission member and Yakima Valley Museum curator Heath Lambe.

Hey, who said artists have to starve?

The tentative plan is to expand the neighborhood from East Lincoln Avenue to East Spruce Street and from Fourth Avenue to Eighth Street. It would take in places like Yakima Maker Space, Essencia, The Capitol Theatre, The Seasons Performance Hall, and Ron’s Coins and Collectibles. It would also include favorite restaurants and wine, beer and coffee stops.

“It’s not just art,” Larson Gallery director David Lynx told YH-R’s Kate Smith. “It’s something creative.” In fact, around 85 industries and 80 professions meet ArtWA’s definition of creation.

No, it doesn’t look much like Bavaria here. And we’re certainly not advocating anyone embarking on a dramatic reading of Hamlet’s soliloquy outside McDonald’s on Yakima Avenue.

Again, we don’t have to be Leavenworth or Ashland. Yakima has its own art. His own style. And a creative district could be a nice place to let some of it thrive.

Grants for art projects would be a boon to the local economy, as would the dollars potential tourists would leave here. Perhaps the biggest benefit, however, would be to establish a more appealing atmosphere downtown – something we would all appreciate whether someone else shows up or not.

At first glance, a creative neighborhood can be anything we want, within reason. So let’s let our imagination run wild.

Lambe envisions traveling street musicians, plein-air painters – or perhaps a neon-lit alleyway at night.

But you probably have your own ideas.

If so, the arts commission would love to hear from you. Contact them via their website (yakimacreativedistrict.org/), their Facebook page (facebook.com/Yakima-Creative-District-108276548649502) or by email: creativedistrict@yakimawa.gov.

Editorials in the Yakima Herald-Republic reflect the collective opinion of the newspaper’s local editorial board.