ArtWalla reorganizes as all-volunteer group

The 20-year-old nonprofit has a nearly all-new board of directors.

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WALLA WALLA -- ArtWalla, the nonprofit group behind the community's public art collection, is re-creating itself.

An almost entirely new board of directors is at the helm of the now all-volunteer organization and has developed a new broader mission for the future.

The goal, board members say, is to become the go-to vehicle for arts across the Walla Walla Valley through a dynamic website, social media and advocacy. The group will also continue with the public art program that coordinated the installation of more than a dozen pieces in the city's public art collection over the last decade.

Greer Buchanan, one of ArtWalla's new board members and its treasurer, said the group hopes to bring add a new piece to the community this year in commemoration of Walla Walla's sesquicentennial celebration.

The changeover is a major shift in the 20-year-old organization that got its start as the Blue Mountain Arts Alliance and changed its name in 2005.

Part of the transition comes with the departure of the agency's executive director, Jeana Garske, who submitted her resignation last month. Board members Rob Robinson, Mark Anderson and Judy Johnson also tendered their resignations. All had served a number of years with the organization.

Five new board members have since joined to serve for 2012. They include President Marilee Schiff, Buchanan, Brian Hatley, Jonathan Hickerson and David Walk. Tricia Harding, who previously served on the board, continues to serve. She is vice president.

In a prepared statement, Garske expressed her support for the new board and direction. "I am excited by the energy and dedication of the newly elected board, and I'm confident that the local arts and culture scene will thrive under their direction," she said.

Harding said the new focus is the result of two years of conversation with the community. The board, she added, will work to refine its mission and vision.

"I look forward to working with the new board to create partnerships with the community -- its citizens, artists, arts organizations and the business community," Harding said. "A strong arts culture brings livability, diversity and economic development to a community."

ArtWalla's imprint on the community first started in 1997 when it began work with the city to create an "Arts Collection Management" ordinance. That piece provided the framework and process so that the city could acquire public art. In 2001, the first three bronze sculptures were accepted and installed.

The most recent piece is "Windows on the Past," a massive, $300,000 work that incorporates the use of parts of the Odd Fellows building facade, dating back to 1902, with photographs representing the multicultural groups that were present in Walla Walla from 1850-1950.

"In ways the Windows project is Walla Walla's history and a representation of just how important art and ArtWalla is to this community," Walk said in the announcement.

Art has also had an impact on the local economy. District 16 reportedly boasts 234 arts-related businesses that employ 700 people, according to statistics from Americans for the Arts, described as the nation's leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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