Allied Arts of Yakima embodied the very definition of a venerable Valley institution. From its founding in 1962 — when few other arts groups existed hereabouts — it flourished with its involvement in many artistic endeavors.
Its Gilbert Park building was a destination for theater-goers who enjoyed regular performances of The Warehouse Theatre. Art lovers browsed through the Peggy Lewis Art Gallery, and offices for Town Hall and Allied Arts itself found a home there. The building also was the site of the Juried Art Exhibit, which in July featured 57 artists at its 46th annual edition, and it played host to poetry contests, photography contests, art contests, art classes and dance lessons.
Allied Arts expanded far beyond its westside headquarters. Beginning in 1985, the organization’s ArtsVan traveled to city parks and local farmers markets during the summer, offering free art lessons and learning projects for children. Allied Arts coordinated the construction of Millennium Plaza in downtown Yakima, started events like the Fresh Hop Ale Festival and the Latino Cultural Film Series, and most recently sponsored quirky downtown art projects like locally shot videos displayed on downtown buildings.
But the longtime headquarters building, a renovated fruit warehouse, was declared unsafe last fall due to deteriorating materials and structurally unsound roof and walls. Repairs could run as high as $500,000. Symbolically, the organization itself was on shaky footing; after decades of stability, the group went through three directors in three years and had been operating at an annual loss for several years.
In the past five decades, a number of arts entities have formed and competed for attention, attendees and donors. The city is rapidly changing demographically, which the organization recognized, but its outreach efforts weren’t enough to turn things around. The building’s problems helped force the hand for Allied Arts; earlier this month, the board voted to dissolve.
There are many activities worth keeping. Parents and children appreciate the summertime diversions of the ArtsVan; the Fresh Hop Ale Festival has brought national acclaim and thousands of people to downtown Yakima; artists always look for gallery space and exposure. These are among the offerings that are worth continuing by either artistic or municipal entities.
Allied Arts’ demise warrants cause for a requiem — and also reflection. This is a good time for arts groups throughout the Valley to assess their missions and organizations, and to ask the difficult questions: Are they reaching and appealing to a changing population and donor base? Are their financial models sustainable? Should groups look at partnerships or even mergers to assure that their valuable programs endure?
Allied Arts had a great run and contributed much to the Valley in the past, but when times are changing, organizations must change with them. Surviving arts entities would do well to learn from Allied Arts’ experience to ensure that they can continue to offer critical quality-of-life attractions for the Yakima Valley.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.