New Oak Harbor nonprofit celebrates artistic possibilities

— Created May 26, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

A new nonprofit organization based in Oak Harbor has plans to bring art – in all its forms – to the forefront of the community.

The Oak Harbor Creative Arts Foundation, fully licensed and registered as a 501(c)(3) with the state in April, has been working for more than a year to lay the groundwork for the organization and is now able to reveal plans for its two main goals.

“Our two primary goals are the establishment of a Makerspace and the construction of a new Performing Arts Center, both in the vicinity of downtown Oak Harbor,” members of the board wrote in a joint response to questions submitted by Whidbey Weekly. “We are currently surveying properties for the first location of our Makerspace, and we are also in preliminary talks with another local nonprofit organization about pairing the material and human resources necessary to construct a Performing Arts Center.”

The board of OHCAF is headed by President Cynthia Mason, who also leads the board of the Oak Harbor Music Festival. Rodric Gagnon serves as vice president; Lisa Sanchez is the board’s secretary; Ronnie Wright serves as treasurer; and Mandy Koelbl and Therese Kingsbury round out the board, along with liaison Leslie Stoner.

Board members said all creative disciplines are welcome to be part of the foundation, including, but not limited to, painting, sculpting, dance, music, theater, welding, woodworking, culinary arts, computer arts, textile arts and “anything else that an imaginative mind might conceive.”

The arts can be a big economic driver for a local economy, something OHCAF board members believe can be accomplished through its planned Makerspace and Performing Arts Center.

“Our Makerspace will in essence be a creative-economy incubator,” said board members. “When creatives from multiple disciplines congregate and coordinate, new projects happen, new businesses form, and a fledgling sector of the economy goes from surviving to thriving. Our Performing Arts Center will be a place for artists to see and be seen. It will also be a place that attracts music and art lovers from far and wide to experience performances by local and world-class artists.

“We see the future of the Oak Harbor area as a thriving arts community filled with public art spaces, galleries, performing arts center, maker-spaces, and creative events and activities scheduled throughout the year,” the board continued. “Our long-term goal is to grow the local creative economy by providing opportunities for local artists, artisans, makers, and crafts-people to make a living doing what they love.”

While the OHCAF will serve artists and makers up and down Whidbey Island, board members said the group hopes to especially highlight the creativity which exists on North Whidbey

“There is a ton of creative-arts activity happening on North Whidbey as well [as South Whidbey], but much of it is either not as well-funded, or simply overshadowed by the sheer volume of other activities going on in the city,” the board said. “A few shining examples are the Oak Harbor Music Festival, the Whidbey Makers Market, and the newly formed Whidbey Island Farmers Market. The Music Festival has continued to grow every year and brings world-class [artists] to Oak Harbor that attract visitors from far and wide. The Makers Market has also continued to grow and has become the focal point of the Makers Movement on North Whidbey. The newly formed Whidbey Island Farmers Market is leveraging the beautiful new spaces in the recently renovated Windjammer Park and promises to bring some much-needed activity to that area.

“We believe that, given the right conditions and catalysts, there is a huge potential to develop the creative economy as a viable sector of the North Whidbey economy,” they continued. “We plan to both be a catalyst, and to create those conditions that will serve to help creatives not only survive, but thrive.”

Board members said they hope to work together with other artistic organizations on the island, such as the Whidbey Island Arts Council, but the two groups are not affiliated.

As the board works out its fundraising plans and goals for the future, members said they hope to shine a spotlight on all artistic possibilities.

“We hope to be a beacon of what is possible when optimistic, imaginative, and hardworking people come together to build something for everyone,” they said. “We are already building a robust community of volunteers, donors, and eager artists and makers who all want to see these projects move forward in earnest. We owe it to all of them to make it happen, and we will.”

Those interested in becoming involved with the Oak Harbor Creative Arts Foundation can go to to receive email updates and learn about volunteer opportunities.