Orcas Island has always been a place where art thrives. The seclusion and connection to nature have continued to draw in creative souls. Four of these artists have offered their experience with the arts community on Orcas.
Sharon Ho, who works with ceramics, has been taking classes since 2007 and has a gallery space in Eastsound. “I was drawn to the simplicity and directness of hand building,” she said, “and the way clay is transformed in the kiln in a process that requires giving up some control of the outcome.”
Tiffany Loney, a celebrated dancer, took her first dance class when she was five and has been dancing ever since, creating many of the wonderful dances that take the stage on Orcas.
Jake Perrine, who works as Artistic Director at Orcas Center, has also been performing since a very young age. Out of all the kids in his fifth-grade class, he said he was “One of three who flat out refused to get on stage and sing.” Instead, he ran the lights, and while watching the other children on stage, mentally critiqued them. “And that’s probably the moment I learned a love of directing!” said Perrine.
Mike Connell has been working with leather on and off for a decade, but returned to it more seriously last year. Since. then, he has opened a business, Orcas Island Leather Goods, and is selling DIY leather kits.
“The arts community on Orcas Island is very vibrant…very rich indeed,” said Loney. The warm community has built a loving, supportive network of artists. “I have always felt very welcomed by the artists I have met here,” said Sharon Ho, who feels that local artists work together and create a very “generous and diverse group”. Perrine also said he is “constantly amazed at the breadth of talent, skill, and passion for the arts on our humble little island.” Connell said that “this community is amazing in its support of the arts in general. There’s a place for everyone and every type of art here.”
Currently, there are some concerns about the current state of the arts, “Our plans have changed entirely. Completely,” said Perrine, on the subject of the COVID-19 lockdown. There have been next to no chances to show a live performance, due to the coronavirus lockdown. Another fear is the financial instability of working in the arts. “On the one hand, we have a richly talented art scene, but I am not sure very many of these artists are financially secure just from art-making,” said Sharon Ho. The COVID-19 lockdown has caused rocky fiscal times for many, but artists especially have been affected.
Yet hope lives on, mostly in the form of online performances. They are something many artists have been relying on recently. There have been over ten virtual performances at Orcas Center, a local theater, and more to come in 2021. “Making sure art prospers on Orcas is pretty much my job at Orcas Center in a nutshell,” said Jake Perrine, who works as the Artistic Director at Orcas Center, and has helped present many of these shows. “Local artists are presenting their work through videography to express that we do still exist and that we are anxious to be able to work collectively under one umbrella again,” said Loney, eloquently expressing the sentiment that lives in the hearts of local artists.
The future is very bright for the arts. Orcas Center (OC) is what many would call the heart of the art community on Orcas. “Having a central location where artists can display their work and observe each other’s art is in my opinion the key to a vibrant, local art scene,” said Loney. “I want OC to be a hub for artistic exploration of all kinds,” said Perrine. Orcas Center has been the host for displays of vocal performance, theater productions, and dance recitals, as well as visual arts. Many enjoy the diversity of this center for the Orcas arts and wish for that to grow even further. “…it [Orcas Center] needs our support to survive this time of COVID closure,” said Sharon Ho.
A common consensus reached among several of the interviewees is a desire for a communal art space, where artists could share equipment and gain inspiration from each other. This proposed space could host small groups and classes, as well as be a place for creators to practice their craft. Sharon Ho hopes this space would “bring different artists together, [and] will encourage more exciting cross-discipline collaborations.”
Art is a form of introspection many people have been turning to during this time of confusion. Even established artists have been finding new forms of expression during quarantine. Tiffany Loney has been playing music, Sharon Ho has been exploring hand stitching, and Jake Perrine has been “diving headfirst” into the realm of videography. Mike Connell launched his new business and created an entire production. “Whether you are trying to make a business of it and monetize it or you’re just creating what you feel like making, the joy just has to be in the making,” said Connell. Make the best of this time that we have to spend away from the prying eyes of society, and find a new way to enjoy expressing yourself.