Kirkland Arts Center looks to the future

KAC recently completed a strategic planning process for 2019-2023.

The Kirkland Arts Center (KAC), which owns and occupies the historic Peter Kirk building, recently completed a strategic plan for 2019-23.

KAC was founded as the Creative Arts League in 1962 by artists and citizens interested in providing local opportunities in the arts and preserving the Kirkland landmark, which they transformed into an exhibition gallery, community arts studios and classrooms serving students of all ages and skill levels.

KAC executive director Kelly Dylla told the Kirkland City Council on Feb. 5 that the center’s enrollment is continuing to grow, and that its reach is expanding outside of the community and into the broader Eastside. After a strategic planning process in 2018, KAC decided to rewrite its mission and vision to be more about people than art, reaffirming that “the Kirkland Arts Center is about the verbs of art, not the nouns.”

The organization is also emphasizing its commitment to youth. Last year, KAC piloted a low-cost after school arts program at two elementary schools — Bell and Frost — and then expanded it to four locations. KAC charged as little as $20 for the eight-week program, and said it taught kids not only about art, but also social and emotional development.

“Research shows that just 45 minutes of doing art, even by a novice, can reduce cortisol levels and multiple studies by health researchers show that arts engagement supports youth social skills, essential both for individual health as well as for career development,” Dylla said.

Dylla said she sees the arts and KAC in terms of historic preservation, cultural vibrancy and public health. She said the KAC also plans to look through racial and equity lenses to react to the changing demographics on the Eastside.

“The Kirkland Arts Center has been a leading voice in Kirkland for arts learning,” she said, adding that people have valued the center because it provides access to high-quality arts education, and because it is warm, inclusive and accessible.

Its biggest issues are space, and parking. During the winter quarter, KAC served 500 students in painting and pottery classes and had an “unprecedented” waitlist of 50 people, Dylla said. Still, she believes in the possibility of growth, and sees increased need and demand for art, especially as a way to “get away from endless scrolling.”

“We’re the only organization that has the scale and the ability to grow on the Eastside,” she said.

The new vision statement notes that KAC “strives to be the regional leader of engaging arts experiences for all.” Its mission is to unleash “the power of art to ignite individual growth, build community spirit and cultivate cultural vibrancy.”

Stewardship of the Peter Kirk building is also embedded in the mission, “as an unwavering commitment to KAC’s legacy for future generations,” Dylla said.

KAC’s 2018 impact report highlights some of the work already in progress, including building preservation.

“Over the past two years, KAC has invested over $200,000 on seismic retrofitting for the first and second floors,” she said. “I’m deeply grateful for the council’s approval of significant funds for phase one of this work. 4Culture and ArtsWa were the key funders of phase two, which was finished just a few weeks ago.”

Phase three, set to start in 2020 or 2021, will conclude the seismic work by retrofitting the third floor, including the turret room. As part of strategic plan, KAC is investigating the feasibility of larger capital campaign for the building, which is “a very special place,” Dylla said.

Another strength of KAC is its people. In 2018, KAC’s 64 teachers served 2,131 students with 4,881 hours of instruction. KAC put on 15 exhibitions at KAC gallery and Kirkland library, as well as installed public art on Park Lane. The report also notes the organization’s 101 volunteers of all ages and abilities, who served 4,507 hours.

KAC also has 257 donors and community supporters who help support its almost $1 million budget, along with revenue from classes.

Dylla encouraged the council to keep supporting civic building preservation and restoration, as well as public art, as the arts help cultivate community.