Unexpected gifts ensure Coupeville art school’s future

— Created June 30, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Sometimes the best gifts are the unexpected ones.

Such is the case for the Pacific Northwest Art School in Coupeville. A bequest by one of the school’s founders and another by a longtime student and supporter have given the arts education center financial stability well into the future.

“They really wanted to see the school carry on into the future,” said Lisa Bernhardt, Pacific Northwest Art School’s executive director. “I had no idea and I was just dumbfounded when [I learned of the gifts]. It’s a sad thing we had to have two people pass away, but they really wanted to see the school carry on. They thought it was such an asset for our tiny island.”

Muriel Pickard was one of the school’s founders and Ellen Marott first got involved as a student.

“Muriel was with us from the school’s inception,” Bernhardt said. “She had always been a benefactor but hadn’t been involved directly in about 10 years. She was a pillar of the community. I knew her passion was [Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve], so when we got a gift from her we were over the moon.

“Then we received Ellen’s gift,” Berhardt continued. “She was interested in mixed media, fiber arts and was involved in the school as a student primarily. But she was always keenly interested in how the school was doing.”

Bernhardt said to receive these gifts now is perfect timing.

“During the pandemic we just hunkered down,” she said. “The staff – we laid ourselves off. We had reserves going into the pandemic, which we used to pay for things like the mortgage, power, etc. These legacy gifts give us some security. It allows us to have a safety net and a cushion so we can make that money last.”

The Pacific Northwest Art School became official 35 years ago, when the Coupeville Festival Association gave the organization $25,000 “seed” money to establish a brick and mortar school, according to Bernhardt. Born of a desire to provide Whidbey Island with art all year long, the school now provides instruction in fiber arts, mixed media, photography and painting. Its faculty consists of renowned instructors from all over the world. The two bequests will enable the school to continue to provide superior quality workshops and more.

“It allows us to bring in high caliber instructors,” Bernhardt said. “Teachers are not inexpensive. While we don’t anticipate adding staff on, our two staff members are back to full time. If something happens to the building, we can take care of the facility. It’s a safety net. It gives us the ability to look 25 to 50 years down the road.”

The funds will also allow the nonprofit school to broaden its reach within the community. Bernhardt said in many ways, Pacific Northwest Art School is one of Whidbey Island’s unknown gems.

“A lot of people don’t know about us,” she said. “We are not real visible; we’re tucked away in a commercial, quasi-medical office area. Also, 60 to 70 percent of our students are not local. Many locals don’t know Coupeville has an art school that’s been around 35 years.

“Our mission is to provide access to art instruction to everyone,” Bernhardt continued. “The money will allow us to continue to reach out, add some new programs we’ve never been able to offer. We can expand our programs to the community so there is more accessibility to art. We’re very keen to be able to continue to offer art to everyone and I’m sure how we can serve the community more will be a big topic of conversation with the board.”

The school was able to start offering workshops and classes last month and has a full slate of workshops coming up, although the schedule has been compressed due to the pandemic. The school will also be partnering with local businesses, such as opening a satellite art supply shop at Frida’s, A Beautiful Mess in Oak Harbor and sharing some of its office space with Sound Touch Healing Arts.

“We’re trying to be creative, trying to have something for everyone,” said Bernhardt. “Fingers crossed, we are going to be busy.”

In addition to bringing workshops back to the school, the Plein Air Paint Out will be back again in August, running in conjunction with the Whidbey Working Artists Open Studio Tour.

“Participating artists will paint during the week, there will be a Friday night reception and weekend-long exhibition,” said Bernhardt. “Artists just love coming to paint here. It’s good for visitors and locals to see them out and about and the artists love to talk about what they’re doing.”

More information on upcoming workshops and the Plein Air Paint Out is available online at pacificnorthwestartschool.org. The school is located at 15 NW Birch Street in Coupeville.

Bernhardt said it feels good to begin to emerge from the pandemic and start getting back to business.

“It’s so good being back and open, seeing everyone’s faces and seeing creativity,” she said. “It’s great connecting with artists, seeing them. It was a huge void not to be able to see them. You don’t realize how much you need art until it’s not there. You need that extra component to satisfy the soul.”