NORTH BEND — On a trip to North Bend these days, you might find a handful of artists selling their artwork at the farmers market at Si View Park. You might come upon 25 people from Iron Horse Writers Group gathering at the North Bend Library for a write-in. And you might find hundreds of blues musicians at 18 different venues downtown for the annual North Bend Blues Walk.

But ask the question: Does North Bend have an arts scene? You might get different answers.

The mountain town of more than 7,400, according to 2020 census reports, has always been a home to artists, said local historian Cristy Lake, assistant director of the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum and collections registrar at the Northwest Railway Museum. But it’s not something she thinks of as a scene.

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“I think of it as more individuals who do art,” said Lake.

North Bend was a lumber town — captured by famous logging photographers Clark, Darius and Clarence Kinsey. Then around the time the lumber town was depicted as the fictional Twin Peaks in David Lynch and Mark Frost’s cult 1990s TV show, the logging trucks disappeared.

North Bend, which catered to hikers, travelers and “Twin Peaks” tourists, grew into a commuter town as populations, traffic volumes and housing prices grew in and outside Seattle. As North Bend lifted its building moratorium in the 2000s, the population of North Bend exploded, said Lake. Proximity to Interstate 90 made access to Redmond, Bellevue and Seattle easy.

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“We’re talking like doubling of numbers every two years in population kind of growth,” said Lake.

Despite all that, North Bend is still a town with only one drugstore, one hardware store, one high school and one movie theater. However, the small town’s growth changed expectations.

Jill Rittenhouse, recreation coordinator at Si View Metro Parks, said people are looking for a rich cultural community and expect and want the arts.

Lucas Haines, owner of Volition Brewing and president of the North Bend Downtown Foundation, said he doesn’t think there’s an art scene yet, but one’s starting to emerge with newcomers to the area.

“It’s always going to be an outdoor destination given the proximity to the mountains and the year-round activity they have there, but having some sort of art scene there is just going to make the town more robust and interesting for more people to come,” said Haines.

The influence of nature

Artist and fine-art educator Ashley Hale, whose printmaking focuses on animals and nature, moved to the Snoqualmie Ridge, about 10 minutes from North Bend, from the Sammamish area three years ago because she wanted to escape the suburban sprawl.

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Mark Berry‘s photography features the region’s waterfalls and mountains.

Surrounded by looming mountains including Mount Si, Granite, Mailbox and Rattlesnake, North Bend’s landscape and history of logging and rail inspires artists who chose to move there.

North Bend resident Taylor Guterson, who fell in love with the area and wrote and directed “Hunting Bigfoot,” said he chose to center his 2021 film about a man’s obsession to find Bigfoot in North Bend because he wanted to show off the region’s rivers, moss, rain and mountains.

“To me, it’s one of the most special places in the United States that’s probably the least heard of,” said Guterson. “I mean people are very familiar with a place like Aspen or Jackson Hole, or other sort of mountain towns around the country, but North Bend and the Snoqualmie Valley is a hidden gem in my opinion.”

Jim Snyder, board president of community theater group Valley Center Stage, retired to the North Bend area from Western New York more than a decade ago.

“My wife and I joke that we’ve retired to an area that’s a national park,” said Snyder. “We get elk walking through our backyard on a regular basis.”

The evolution of the arts scene

If there is an arts scene emerging in North Bend, it’s because of a number of dedicated individual efforts.

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Actor Gary Schwartz founded Valley Center Stage in 2001 when he and his wife moved to the area, said Snyder.

Since then, Valley Center Stage has given amateur volunteer casts their start in theater, growing from three to six productions a year. In 2020, Valley Center Stage relocated to a new larger space, renting the Sallal Grange at 1060 Stilson Ave. S.E. After $100,000 in building renovations and hundreds of volunteer hours, Valley Center Stage reopened last October with Agatha Christie’s play, “The Mousetrap.” This year, its season opens with Ernest Thompson’s “On Golden Pond.”

“The closest larger theaters are in Issaquah and Bellevue and the city [of Seattle], so out this far east, there isn’t live theater happening at this scale except for us,” said Snyder, who describes the theater as a “labor of love.”

In 2009, musician Danny Kolke transformed the town’s jazz scene when he started the jazz club Boxley’s. A year later, he started a nonprofit, JazzClubsNW, which now presents the annual North Bend Jazz and Blues walks at a number of community venues including the North Bend Theatre, a 1941 movie theater that also hosts a number of community events including film festivals, live comedy shows and concerts.

“It was just one person deciding ‘I want to do this and I want to bring in the community’ and that was Danny Kolke,” said Kevin Burrows, who purchased the North Bend Theatre along with his wife, Beth Burrows, in 2018.

Comedian Andrew Rivers, who grew up in North Bend and later moved to Seattle, remembers feeling like there wasn’t much to do in town. That’s partly what drove him to bring comedy shows to North Bend and other underserved markets, said Rivers, who works with the Burrows family to produce monthly comedy shows at their theater.

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“I was talking to my dad and he jokingly said you’re like an Eagles cover band,” said Rivers. “In a city where there’s nothing else going on, people will come see you.”

The future of North Bend’s arts scene

If you ask about North Bend’s art scene, people will eventually point you to Beth Burrows. After buying the North Bend Theatre, she founded the art advocacy and education nonprofit North Bend Art & Industry in 2019 because she believes art makes a town a better place to live.

“It’s really the musicians, the artists, the creatives that put that special spice in your life,” said Beth.

It was in 2018 that Beth figured out what she wanted to do with the 2.5 acres next to City Hall that her family purchased in 2014. She was inspired by Sam Farrazaino who established Equinox Studios, converting a 30,000-square-foot former factory to sublets for working artisans in Seattle’s Georgetown in 2006. Under a separate and new nonprofit she’s working on forming called Samara Studios, Beth wants to eventually develop the land into a similar coworking space for artists to live and work. She’s in the planning stages for the first phase of a $2 million, two-year project to transform a 2,400-square-foot, 1929 locomotive shed into an artists’ marketplace and headquarters for her nonprofit. The second phase of the at-least $5 million project would include building affordable artist studio spaces and housing. Financing for these projects is still to be determined.

Meanwhile, Nicole Hansen oversees the Snoqualmie Valley Carousel project, which is working to restore a 60-feet in diameter and more than 30-feet high 1927 Dentzel carousel in downtown North Bend. The carousel is originally from Rock Springs Park in Chester, West Virginia, with parts donated to North Bend because a carver lives in the area, said Hansen.

While the project is still in its infancy, community members will eventually help choose and carve the menagerie of animals installed in the carousel. The Snoqualmie Valley Carousel project will also have a workshop on the Burrows’ Samara Studios property. Beth expects the carousel workshop to be completed in the first phase of Samara Studios development.

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“I don’t know if it’s the nexus or the birthplace. I just feel like we’re coming to a groundswell, that’s what we’re coming to,” said Beth. “There have been numerous individual efforts, but now all of our efforts are like pieces of metal coming toward a magnet.”

So what will the art scene look like in North Bend tomorrow?

“It’s not something that’s easily identified partly because we’re still in the transition,” said Kevin. “People are just starting now to realize they don’t have to move someplace else or drive someplace else to have some sort of art experience.”