“Read and Create” events nurture love of reading and a passion for art

— Created August 18, 2021 by Melanie Hammons

By Melanie Hammons

A vision for community connection in Oak Harbor just came to life this summer. An ordinary downtown book swap event gave birth to the extraordinary concept of sharing books and art to foster relationships, said Amy Hannold, publisher of Whidbey Island Macaroni Kid, a local activities guide for parents, kids and families.

“Summertime brings a wealth of activities to families; camps, etc.,” said Hannold. “Those are wonderful opportunities that occur mainly in the daytime. But many parents work and can’t join in on these. They have expressed a desire for events set in the late afternoon/evening timeframe.

“The second thing I often hear is, ‘There’s no (dedicated) space we can go and do things with our kids,’” Hannold continued.

Situated in a temporarily gifted space at 210 SE Pioneer Way, “Read and Create Space” Oak Harbor seeks to meet these needs. In a collaborative effort between Macaroni Kid, Whidbey Island Arts Council, artists and other interested volunteers, these no-cost events are hosted during the 4 – 7 p.m. timeframe. They aim to promote a love of the written word and the beauty of art. As worthwhile as those aims are, there’s an even greater good in view, said Hannold and local artist Therese Kingsbury of WIAC.

The ultimate goal is to foster and deepen relationships with others over these shared interests. Hannold said she hopes the events result in “a community connector space.”

From the outset, “Read and Create” successfully combined Hannold’s life-long love of books with Kingsbury’s love of the arts. But other possibilities and opportunities arising from these are not only possible, but deeply desired and sought after, said Hannold.

“It goes beyond parents connecting with their own kids over a good book. I know of many older folks who would just enjoy a chance to get out and play a board game for a couple of hours. We could easily add a game night. A movie night is something else we’ve discussed, provided we can assemble a team of volunteers to put something like that together,” she said.

Hannold also said that in keeping with the goal of developing relationships over common interests, these events might eventually prove ideal for Big Brothers/Big Sisters meet-ups, too.

The bi-weekly events have already started. Hannold and Kingsbury say attendance averages 50 people so far. Participants include more than just parents and children; all age groups are targeted and welcomed.

“We have books organized by age and interest,” said Hannold. “There are beanbag chairs, footstools, and cozy chairs to curl up in for a good read. People have donated board games and art supplies, including easels and paints. We’ll have places for people to sit, read, or work on a puzzle,” she said.

Whidbey Island holds a well-deserved reputation of supporting the arts. In fact, that high level of appreciation is very likely the reason “Read and Create” resides in a rent-free space for the time being. Kingsbury largely credits Oak Harbor City Council member Jim Woessner for that.

“Jim reached out to me (as a WIAC board member). He wanted to provide an arts-related endeavor to the Oak Harbor community. It is thanks to his and Carol Vinson’s efforts, that we have been graciously lent the space at 210 SE Pioneer Way,” said Kingsbury.

Kingsbury’s own background as a sculptor uniquely prepares her to promote the arts, and what could be called the “create” portion of “Read and Create” events. She hopes not only to interest local artists in holding demonstrations, but desires to help the artists themselves, who are busily tasked with making a living through their art. To further that, she’d like to include artist profiles and Art Trail information at corresponding events.

“One of our very first events, we invited a basket weaver to come and show her craft. We could host future events where we’ll see sewing and even quilt-making going on. And yes, more basket weaving. I can envision artistic expressions of different kinds, undertaken in a friendly venue, with background music (just to complete the artistic experience,)” Kingsbury said. “That’s why I consider these events foundational to fostering a ‘cultural community center.’”

Hannold and Kingsbury are very grateful for the way things have fallen together in the right time and place for “Read and Create” to exist.

“Just the generosity that’s been on display, mostly in the form of our gifted space,” said Hannold, explaining that the location came to them fully furnished. “People have donated books galore. Seeing the open-heartedness of our community is not only deeply encouraging to us, but makes us optimistic for what could lie ahead in the future for ‘Read and Create.’”

The events themselves are free, but donations are always gratefully accepted, she said.

Hannold said they have enough donated books for the time being, though she stressed that “if a child wants to bring a donated book in as a gift, we are fine with that.” A more immediate need is for people to help sort those books. That effort could hold an added benefit for people needing to earn community service hours. Another need is for additional bookshelves and comfortable sitting chairs, and kid-sized tables, chairs, and easels; these tangible donations would be greatly appreciated, according to Hannold.

A second need can be more correctly termed an intangible one, Hannold said.

“We would welcome a couple of ‘somebodies’ who could greet people at our events. The events themselves are not formal, they’ve really taken on a sort of open house-type format. If we indeed are able to host a movie night occasionally, it’d be nice to have a couple of volunteers who could help with that,” she said.

Kingsbury also would love to see a “creativity volunteer” who enjoys working with various expressions of art. She likens the plethora of books and art supplies in their space to “a treasure hunt,” one they desire to use wisely for the benefit of participants. “We do have a need for just the right person on hand to mentor that sort of creativity,” she said.

 “Read and Create Oak Harbor” offers no-cost events with the ultimate goal of starting and deepening relationships among people, all while promoting a love for books and the arts. Hannold says if the interest continues to grow, events may turn into weekly happenings. And that’s just the start. It could well be the best reward possible for the very ones who write and read those books; and to the creators and lovers of that art.

As Kingsbury put it, “Our reward is the pleasure of knowing that we’ve done something for our community.”

For more information, refer to the Facebook page, “Read and Create Oak Harbor.” The next event is set for Wednesday, Aug. 25, 4 – 7 p.m., at 210 SE Pioneer Way, Oak Harbor. Hannold may be reached at 425-754-4919 or at eventsandinfo@comcast.net.