It was a day to expect the unexpected.
A ballerina danced on an asphalt stage, a poet read a poem on a path lit with stone, families dined on hot dogs — the “really good kind” (all the more so for being free), according to one fan — then toured a coral reef knit from yarn. And still to come, more music, more dance, more art — and only a bit of rain.
That’s how you celebrate the end of five years of excitement, disappointment, and surprise – the good and the ghastly. That’s how, on Nov. 18 from morning till afternoon, the Lincoln City Cultural Center celebrated $3 million worth of art and effort in a public fete dubbed the Cultural Plaza Activation Party. The plaza project combines safety and accessibility with public art and gathering spaces. It includes the Poetry Path, with lines in Spanish and language from the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, a music park, Audubon “Bird Bricks,” and, installed earlier, Poppy, an interactive, 24-foot-tall, steel-and-fused-glass beast created by Portland-based artist Pete Beeman.
“Everything went according to plan,” said the center’s executive director, Niki Price. “All our rain backup plans worked. We fed more than 250 people. I could not be more pleased.”
No doubt, that pleasure comes not only from the success of the celebration, but also because it marks a milestone in a journey that has been bumpy indeed.
OREGON CULTURAL HUBS: An occasional series
The path has wound through COVID closures and cancellations, devastating wildfires, $1.5 million in Oregon Lottery funds pledged and then rescinded. The future once again brightened with the receipt of $1.8 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. It was one roller-coaster of a ride.
But on that Saturday in November, as more than 500 people joined in the festivities, there was no doubt it had been worth it.
Occupying the 94-year-old Delake School has never been easy. The Lincoln City Cultural Center – founded in the 1990s by a group of visual artists looking for a place to hold classes and exhibit their work – took up residence in 2007, one year after the city purchased the building set along Highway 101 near the center of town. Price joined the nonprofit in 2011.
“When our organization took over, it was quite daunting,” Price said. “The amount of work that would be required to improve all the systems of the building — it was a big job. Almost everything needed to be fixed or upgraded in order to serve adults. These little tiny bathrooms had to be expanded. The electrical had to be upgraded; the boiler taken out. It was quiet, dark, leaky.”
Nonetheless, the group of artists first known as the Lincoln City Arts Forum and later the Coastal Communities Cultural Center, took it on. “That’s an amazing moment of faith they faced,” Price said. “They were really sure that not only should this building be saved, but also serve the community of Lincoln City.”
In the beginning, there were two employees – one part-time – and little money for rent. So, the nonprofit petitioned the city to grant periods of rent forgiveness, promising to strengthen its finances and build a rainy-day fund. In 2018, the board signed a 50-year lease, which comes with the option of an extension. Last year, the center counted 41,000 visitors to 320 events, not including those attending ongoing classes such as yoga, ceramics, and dance.
“We don’t pay rent, but we do provide a lot more,” Price said. “We have the operational freedom to upgrade the building, we have the grants that make it happen, and also offer programs while we do it.” In brokering the lease, Price told the City Council, “We can upgrade, we can pay rent, and we can provide programming, but we can’t do all three. We think it would be a good deal to upgrade and provide programming to make people’s lives better.”
The visual arts program has always been the center’s primary strength. Named for Phyllis “PJ” Chessman, one of the board’s founding members, the 570-square-foot PJ Chessman Gallery balances high black ceilings with clean white display space and bamboo floors, showcasing 12 exhibits a year. The current exhibit, Between Tides, features clay artist Liz Fox and painter Sandra Roumagoux and will be up through Dec. 31, with an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 1.
“We concentrate on Northwest artists,” said visual arts director Krista Eddy. “We try to give local artists the leg up they might need.” That focus extends to artists who work and show in the Fiber Arts Studio Gallery, currently showcasing Pieced Observations, by Janet Webster. That show, too, will hold an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 1.
Eddy selects the exhibits for the gallery, oversees the installation, handles the press, the opening reception, and all the minutia that goes with a new exhibit, but she’s equally well known for her role in children’s art education. She’s overseen the creation of nearly 20,000 art kits, a project she launched during COVID to provide local kids with free art projects that contain all the necessary supplies. If adults are so inclined to pick up a project, that’s OK, too.
Now, Eddy is taking her art to Taft Elementary School, where students in grades 1-6 get a full art lesson once a month – the first time in decades that the school has hosted art classes.
“It’s so much positive outpouring,” Eddy said. “The kids are like excited puppy dogs. They love it so much. There is just a buzzing happiness in the classroom to have art back in their lives.”
From the beginning, the center has looked to expand upon the visual arts program, mindful of the need to welcome and provide for everyone.
“We aren’t just classical music,” Price said. “We aren’t exclusionary culture. We try to be useful to the community, whether it’s a meeting space or providing stuff for kids or a room for dance, we try to provide something for everyone, and I think that has shown our worth over time.”
In the historic halls where little feet once shuffled and young minds opened to new ideas, doors lead to spaces for yoga, dance, a green room, the newly upgraded Margaret’s Meeting Room, named for early board member Margaret Juenke, and the Arcoiris Cultural Tienda de Artesanias, where traditional artists sell their work.
The auditorium, described on the center website as “intimate, wood-lined … a bit like an old church,” occupies the north end of the hall where musicians, theater performances, and dance troupes from around the world entertain – along with those right in the center’s backyard.
The Siletz Bay Music Festival has called the auditorium stage home for about 11 years. “They have been the strongest partner anyone could ask for,” Jain Sekuler, festival production manager, said of the center. “They make a space for us, a place for serving food, they bend their schedule to meet our needs. There is no place else in Lincoln City that provides the kind of venue, the warmth, the community atmosphere.”
In November, the Rotary Club of Lincoln City showed its gratitude for that same familial spirit with the dedication of the Music in the Parks project, three percussion instruments on the plaza open to anyone to play. The oversized instruments are the imbarimba, contrabass chimes, and the swirl.
“All of the outdoor instruments are tuned to each other,” said Barbe Jenkins-Gibson,who proposed the project 10 years ago after seeing a similar park in Colorado. “You can play them all in unison and make beautiful music. This is a perfect example of an outdoor cultural experience. You don’t have to dress up; you don’t have to go into a fancy building.”
With the plaza largely complete, Price will move on to raising funds for two additional projects: One is a garden, where wedding parties might pose for photos or visitors sit for a moment of peace; the other, a project crafted with help from the public at workshops during the pandemic.
The Lincoln City Cosmography is a 20-foot round, ground-level LithoMosaic that will be placed in front of the Delake School’s west entrance. The artwork, “an iconography of life here on the Oregon Coast,” is complete, but must be transported from California artist Robin Brailsford’s studio. She’ll do the installation once it arrives. “Installation is very complicated, a proprietary thing,” Price said. The center already has commitments for funding from the Oregon Cultural Trust and the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation. To date, they’ve raised $60,000 of the $250,000 price tag on the LithoMosaic and will also need to raise $60,000 for the garden.
“I’m really hopeful, to be honest,” Price said. “It’s been a great experience watching people become invested in the design and execution of the plaza. I feel like our location in Lincoln City right on 101 is known by millions of people, and they all have thoughts and opinions and hopes for this spot on the highway. It has to translate into investment in the future.”