The ‘Wagner Swifts’ sculpture created by Sultan artist Kevin Pattelle was commissioned by the city of Monroe, and installed  downtown.
The ‘Wagner Swifts’ sculpture created by Sultan artist Kevin Pattelle was commissioned by the city of Monroe, and installed downtown.

The Monroe Arts Council is revamping its approach to recognizing the arts and artists in the Sky Valley.

The ArtUpMonroe campaign set to launch in June will rely more heavily on social media — complete with its own hashtag — and supply more events and programs in the area. Regular art walks, public classes and community partnerships are also on the list.

Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas said the group has always been active in the community, but have increased the pursuit of specified projects in recent months.

“It just gives more opportunities for people to get out and see one another and see the gifts people have in and around our community,” he said. 

Lise Sexton has filled the nonprofit’s recently vacated board president position. She said the group has recently bent its focus toward building an art map. Cities like Bellingham and Snohomish use art walks and maps to connect locals and visitors with hidden and conspicuous points of interest and foster “awareness of art in public spaces,” she said.

“I was shocked we didn’t already have something like this in play,” Sexton said. “I was shocked even though I had been with the arts council for close to 10 years.”

Sexton said the city-commissioned “Wagner Swifts” sculpture by Kevin Pattelle is well pronounced, and artist David Hose’s murals are prominently displayed on the sides of buildings.

Arts council board treasurer Anita Flickinger said works of art at the gallery owned by former president Leonie Saaski inside the Research International Inc. building on Beaton Road in Monroe usually fly under the radar.

“Some pieces blend into our camouflage of every day, and we are hoping that this project will bring the focus back to those pieces,” said.

Hose said he has been involved with the arts council on and off since he moved to Monroe 13 years ago. The council commissioned his first mural in town, “River of Life,” near the railroad tracks on North Lewis Street. His more than 30 paintings are plastered on the exteriors or inside of residential and commercial structures.

“The arts council has been a very important part of development for Monroe,” he said. “They have been very active, there’s a lot of passion among the members. If anything, I am glad to hear they want to become even more active.”

Hose and Thomas said they want to see more art installed around town, and the arts council will be a major asset in that process. Thomas said the city’s 2018 budget will most likely include funds to help make that happen, and he hopes the nonprofit will remain a player in determining what is best for the community, and where new pieces should go.

Sexton said the list of local artwork for the art map is almost complete, adding the hope is that the community will come forward with anything overlooked once ArtUpMonroe goes public.

The guide will take users to each piece and installation situated throughout Monroe, from Chain Lake Road through downtown, and across the city to Fryelands Boulevard. 

Because of the topography covered, future art walks will take place in the form of a scavenger hunt and use social media, Sexton said. People will be asked to take selfies in front of the found artwork for credit to “make it more socially interactive,” she said. 

Flickinger said the city of Monroe, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center and the Downtown Monroe Association are supporting the project. The rollout is planned for August, and will coincide with the city’s annual Movies Under the Moon events. Winners of the walk will likely be announced at the weekly outdoor film screenings, she said.

The arts council had five original founders, none of whom are still active members. A nine-member board of directors that includes a four-member executive board makes decisions.

Sexton said she joined the grassroots organization one year after its formation more than one decade ago. Members of the nonprofit’s board of directors have often included representatives from the other organizations that operate under the arts council’s 501(c)3 license.

Flickinger said the Sky Performing Arts community theater group and the Monroe Concert Band currently operate under the arts council’s umbrella. Two others, Socrates Cafe, a local branch of the international organization that sets up forums to discuss ideas and philosophy, and the newly formed children’s ensemble, the Cascade Conservatory of Music, have also applied for the same status, she said.

The five organizations will collaborate to structure upcoming classes for the public, Flickinger said. Courses should be announced and start up within the next few months, and will cater to different age groups and interests. She also said the partnerships will help the arts council offer more benefits to members.

Next month the annual membership drive launches, Flickinger said. Previously donations didn’t amount to much other than the standard tax deduction. Starting this year different options, such as family or business memberships, will include perks like reduced tickets to theater productions and discounts for classes, she said.

Flickinger said for the past four years the arts council has been more heavily focused on the area’s visual art and artists. Sexton said the arts council’s long-time president and secretary both stepped down about two months ago.

The turnover “left us in a little bit of a scramble and with that some new people came in, and it breathed in new life and new ideas, and that was the kick in the pants so to speak for us to reassess and refocus and put us on the path that we are,” Flickinger said.

Sexton said discussions at monthly meetings now drift toward developing a well-rounded representation of the different mediums pursued by local artists. She said the arts council is also still trying to finish one of its long-term goals, which is to bring everyone in under one roof.

Two years ago the Monroe School District, another community partner, decided to lease out the space at the Wagner Performing Arts Center to the arts council for 20 years. The agreement depends on the arts council providing consistent renovations to the center, and that annual progress reports are relayed to the school district.

The arts council also recently put out a call for graphic designers for a contest to create a new logo for the nonprofit, Flickinger said.