In the vast arts ecosystem that reaches across the river to Portland and beyond, Vancouver holds an untapped opportunity that could be a game-changer for our community and our economy.

The Fort Vancouver National Historic Site includes a “campus” of army barracks buildings in need of redevelopment by tenants willing to provide a public benefit aligned with the National Park Service’s philosophy and their overall site plan.

According to Superintendent Tracy Fortmann, the buildings are available to nonprofit arts organizations at very favorable lease rates not generally found in the private sector. Fortmann was instrumental in the transformation of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Fort Mason and the Marin Headlands, which are now thriving arts centers. Our community could do something similar at the Fort.

We have witnessed past efforts of local groups focused on encouraging investment in arts-related facilities in Vancouver. But none have actually coalesced, established themselves, or gained the kind of momentum deserving of our community. Perhaps we haven’t thought big enough. Perhaps we get mired in the idea that facilities north of the river should serve only residents north of the river. Or perhaps we have settled too easily for the notion that if you want arts and culture experiences, you just cross the river to Portland.

Instead of setting ourselves up in opposition to Portland, we should embrace Portland. We could offer an affordable and more permanent place for displaced artists or those looking for opportunity–a place for the arts community to expand and flourish. We can offer partnership in an arts future, meeting needs not currently met, serving everyone north and south of the river–and beyond.

The National Park Service opportunity, if handled with inspired vision, could attract national organizations (perhaps priced out of their current locations) to locate here. To do all this, local groups and entities will need to work together instead of in isolation. We will need to collaborate and look for synergies to make the most efficient and effective use of resources.

As for Arts of Clark County, we would like to offer ourselves up where we can as a neutral party that can help connect the dots and facilitate conversation toward fulfilling a vision of Vancouver as being a part of the regional or national arts hub that is the greater metropolitan area.

There are of course other efforts we’ve been interested in that could be energized by this vision, including the creation of an arts education/exhibition center, a performing arts center, and the development of affordable live-work artist spaces. We expect future issues of our ARTS brief newsletter to dive deeper into each of these topics.