An editor once told me the best way to learn anything is to write about it. That lesson was driven home this year as I took on the beat covering arts on the Oregon Coast. Prior to that, I would have told you that, yes, the arts are alive and well on the edge of the Pacific. At other times, I could have been heard grumbling that there was nothing to do here. Then admitting, grudgingly, that even when there was, I didn’t do it. I might have said it was a case of “been there, done that.”
In truth, after so many years of covering breaking — often tragic — news, lightened by the occasional feature, and even then hamstrung by the rules of conventional journalism, I kind of forgot about art and just how much it encompasses. I forgot that art unites us, teaches us, makes us better people. That art brightens the world.
And so, when the offer came to write this weekly column, I was sorely tempted to say no. Other than living here, I didn’t think I had the connections. But I thought about it and I wavered — yes, no, maybe, well OK, at least for now. I had this idea that it could be a chance to broaden my horizons, to move from that place of stagnation, and start growing again. It was an enticing thought, but really, I had no idea what I’d happened upon.
I soon learned that you can’t write about the arts in a place like the Oregon Coast — a place where one of the largest cities has roughly nine traffic lights — and not come away inspired. Again and again, I have been awed by what people in these small towns accomplish through sheer will, generosity of time and spirit, and the absolute refusal to give up.
Nowhere is that truer than in the story behind the Newport Performing Arts Center in Nye Beach. In covering its 30th anniversary this summer, I got my first real look at what parts of the place I call home had once looked like. It wasn’t pretty. What is now one of Newport’s most charming neighborhoods was once composed of rat-infested, rotting cottages, dubbed by some “poverty gulch.” Today, it is the hub of the arts scene here, home to a symphony, dance and theater companies, an international film series, and continuing to grow.
Likewise, I have been repeatedly impressed by events hosted by the Hoffman Center for the Arts in the little village of Manzanita. In recent months, the center hosted appearances by America’s librarian Nancy Pearl and jazz legend Rebecca Kilgore, as well as showing the documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin. All of this, plus art workshops and shows, a writing series, a film series, lectures on aging and dying, in a town with a full-time population of 639.
There have been a few discoveries, as well. In writing about an afternoon at the Lincoln City Cultural Center, I learned about the world of short films and met filmmaker Michael Harrington. His life was shaped in a small town on the Coast, a place he holds close and honors by showing his Wandering Reel Traveling Film Festival here. He purposefully picks small towns like ours, because he knows that the films are a chance for people to come together, share an experience, contribute their thoughts.
Also on the list of discoveries, the Trail’s End Art Association Gallery in Gearhart. I had no idea the historic, wooden red building even existed, much less is the oldest art association/co-op of its kind on the North Coast, and the showplace for some truly talented artists.
As different as these venues are — a historic former schoolhouse, a rehabbed storage facility financed with the modest bequest left by two artist residents, a $3 million performing arts center years in the making — at their heart, these stories are very much alike. Each is a success in its own right, driven largely by volunteers with a passion for the arts and the tireless desire to share it.
I signed on here in hopes of seeing this stretch of wild landscape with fresh eyes, and I haven’t been disappointed. I have no doubt the coming year will be every bit as enlightening.
Happy New Year.