For culture-loving Edmonds, with its arts festival, ballet, symphony and thriving community theater, it looked like a perfect fit: A waterfront complex devoted to fine arts, where...

Share story

For culture-loving Edmonds, with its arts festival, ballet, symphony and thriving community theater, it looked like a perfect fit:

A waterfront complex devoted to fine arts, where the public could take classes, buy artworks and stroll past glassed-in studios to watch artisans paint, sculpt and blow glass. Another high-quality destination to help draw tourists to Edmonds, which prides itself on being one of the region’s more charming destinations.

But somewhere along the way, the Fine Arts Center of Edmonds lost momentum. Last spring, the center’s supporters returned their latest grant — $6,000 awarded by the Edmonds City Council — and terminated a lease with the Port of Edmonds. The center’s board of directors plans to regroup early next year and create a strategy to rev up community support for the center, which is expected to cost nearly $10 million.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Bad timing is largely to blame: The project is competing with the Edmonds Center for the Arts for money and public support. That $16 million performing-arts project, set to break ground in April, will transform the original Edmonds High School into a home for the Cascade Symphony Orchestra and Olympic Ballet Theatre.

Ed Cardiff has been on the fine-arts center’s board of directors since its inception in 1998. His day job as an Edmonds dentist helps finance his real love, glass blowing.

Cardiff learned his craft at the Pilchuck Glass School, near Stanwood, and has works on display as far away as Hawaii and Alaska.

He hopes to someday manage the center’s glass-blowing “hot shop” and be one of its teachers and resident artists.

Cardiff is adamant that the project isn’t in trouble and speaks optimistically about its potential partnerships with local schools, Edmonds Community College and the University of Washington. The board plans to hire a full-time director next year, he said.

“We’re very definitely not kaput. Not by any means,” Cardiff said.

The project’s fund-raising phase began in 1999, when a local family anonymously contributed $10,000. In March 2000, the project scored another coup: a $10,000 grant from the Allen Foundation for the Arts, part of billionaire Paul Allen’s philanthropic empire.

Supporters of the fine-arts center have $560,000 in construction money, awarded several years ago by the Snohomish County Council from the county’s hotel-motel taxes, and a preliminary building sketch by Mithun Partners, a Seattle architectural firm whose better-known projects include REI’s flagship store.

The concept is modeled after the successful Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Va., an arts complex along the Potomac River that draws 800,000 visitors a year into the city’s historic district. More than 165 artists, including painters, sculptors, jewelers, photographers, potters, printmakers and stained-glass specialists, interact with the public as they pursue their crafts.

The Edmonds center is envisioned as a two-story, 28,000-square-foot building along the Edmonds Marina on Port of Edmonds land between Anthony’s HomePort and Arnie’s restaurants.

The project originally was to break ground last August, so the Port asked the center’s board to provide proof of the project’s viability. The board in May persuaded the City Council to award a $6,000 grant for an economic-impact study but changed its mind several weeks later. It canceled the grant and allowed its Port lease and purchase option to expire.

Chris Keuss, the Port’s executive director, last week said the arts group is not in imminent danger of losing that spot to another project. No competing proposals are on the horizon, he said.

“I thought it was a neat concept,” he said. “It was very unique, and I thought it would be good for the city of Edmonds.”

The city’s cultural-resources coordinator, Frances White Chapin, agreed.

Although the center is competing with the performing-arts project for public donations, the two would be complementary, she said. As the city becomes better known as an arts destination, all of its component projects would benefit.

“That is the greatest strength of the arts; we see that synergy,” Chapin said.

Mayor Gary Haakenson also said the fine-arts center would be a perfect fit for the city.

“I believe someday it will come to fruition,” he said. “They need to have a leadership team that needs to come along with better timing, but I think it’s a great idea.”

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or