ArtEAST eyes new art center in old Lewis Hardware space

June 15, 2010

By Chantelle Lusebrink

ArtEAST members have signed a letter of intent to lease Lewis Hardware for a future arts center.

Lease negotiations will proceed with the building’s owners this week, artEAST Executive Director Karen Abel said.

“It has been a goal of ours since the beginning to build an arts center,” Abel said.

The group started a grassroots fundraising operation prior to the June 4 Issaquah ArtWalk to raise $20,000 needed to proceed with signing the lease and paying rent on the property, should they get it. The group raised that well in advance of their June 11 deadline, thanks to generous donations from the community, Abel said.

If they do get the lease, the $20,000 will help artEAST officials sustain rent on the storefront.

ArtEAST organizers have been eyeing the vacant Lewis Hardware storefront at 95 Front St. N., across the street from their Upfront Gallery, 48 Front St. N. Only recently did it become clear they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to grow and reach their goal of one day owning an arts center to better serve the community, she said.

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized Issaquah is the center of communities like Maple Valley, North Bend, Snoqualmie, Sammamish, Fall City and North Renton. The list goes on,” she added. “There is a demand here for the arts from families and from parents who want their children to be involved in the arts.”

In addition to meeting a goal, Abel said, organizers can help preserve the historical significance of Lewis Hardware, which has been vacant for nearly two years.

“This is a way to preserve the history of this building in a way no other business can,” she said. “We can celebrate it and the Lewis and Pickering families, as part of the arts center we create.”

ArtEAST formed roughly five years ago as a nonprofit organization to support arts and artists in the greater Issaquah community. An arts center would help further that mission, she said.

With more than double the space of Upfront Gallery, organizers have a vision of a community arts center that would allow everyone access to the arts and the ability to tap into their creative side. Young or old, beginning or well established, all artists would be welcome to use the center.

Having the various groups in one space would likely spur even better mentorship opportunities, partnerships and artistic accomplishments, Abel said. But the next steps they take will have to be with community support.

Organizers estimate that it will take another $20,000 to begin planning with the community and it will take community volunteer work to get it configured into a space for the arts. But that’s a good thing, Abel said, the more community members are helping paint and hammer, the more of a community space it will be.

By obtaining Lewis Hardware, Abel said, artEAST can also keep retail traffic on Front Street and spur more people to shop and eat locally.

“During economic times like these, people often think of arts as the cherry on top of the sundae,” she said. “But arts aren’t the cherry. They are a real part of our economy and a real part of the energy of our community.”

ArtEAST was one of two interested parties in the storefront, according to Rebecca Knowles, a member of the Lewis family.

If they do get the lease, organizers have to raise another $20,000 for construction costs to turn the building into an arts center.

If the Lewis Hardware lease doesn’t go through, Abel said organizers will contact people that made pledges and see if they’d like to keep those in place as part of their general fundraising accounts.

Afterward, organizers would begin to look at other alternatives, like finding a temporary space to increase their workshop capabilities or looking at other storefronts in the downtown area, she said.

Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

How to help

Donate at Upfront Gallery, 48 Front St. N., or call 996-8553.

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