High passions for parks & arts – and here's where I stand

April 11, 2016 | by Erin Sirianni

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Over the weekend, The Seattle Times published the article, “Fight on the Eastside over 1 acre of parkland,” about the Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) proposed location in Mercerdale Park and the political group “Concerned Citizens for Mercer Island Parks.”

In summary, the Concerned Citizens are collecting signatures to put a “Protect our Parks” initiative on the November ballot that would limit changes in the use of existing parkland, and any parkland that is donated must be replaced with land of equal value from somewhere else on the island.

The initiative was created after the City Council agreed to lease an acre at the corner of Mercerdale Park (where the old recycling center is) to MICA.  The group must gather 2600 signatures before June 2nd in order to get the initiative on the ballot.

In response to the Concerned Citizens signature campaign, a pro-MICA at Mercerdale Park group formed – Support MI Parks and Arts – and they have launched a “Decline to Sign” counter-campaign.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the inserts in the Reporter on behalf of both parties about why or why not to sign the petition or have seen the “Decline to Sign” signs that have popped up around the Island.  Numerous articles and letters to the editor have been published (see the “Additional reading” section below).   Maybe you’ve been approached by representatives of either party, and many of you probably know which side of the debate you stand on and maybe you are tired of hearing about it.

Readers of My MI probably won’t be surprised to know which side of the debate I stand on since I’ve published many articles following MICA’s developments since I launched this publication.  I also can’t pretend to be neutral, since I took a public stance on it before My MI even existed.

Why I support MICA – and its location at Mercerdale Park

My first introduction to MICA was in 2013 when I was co-president of the Mercer Island Preschool Association (MIPA). Then-MICA project manager Stowe Sprague approached our organization to share the vision for the center with us and ask us for our support. Following several small group meetings and a presentation at a MIPA general meeting, we drafted and voted to approve an endorsement statement in support of MICA.

MICA opponents suggest that MICA was devised behind closed doors by the City Council without community input, but as I have just described, this is not the case. MICA has involved years of community input, and MIPA is one of over 20 Mercer Island organizations that has formally endorsed or expressed support for MICA.

I support MICA since I believe it will be a wonderful asset to all members of our community – child to senior.  I believe MICA will be enhancement of Mercerdale Park and will bring more people into the park to enjoy it. I believe in MICA’s success since we are a community that supports the arts, demonstrated by the popularity of Youth Theatre Northwest, the school district’s band program, and the big turnouts at concerts and performances in Mercer Island’s parks (to provide just a few examples).

I not only support MICA but I am so excited for this center, and it can’t open soon enough. My boys are more into sports than they are into music, but I hope their musical (and arts) horizons will expand. Being a part of a musical ensemble was one of the great joys of my life. I look forward to experiencing musical performance and demonstrations of all the arts at the future arts center.

Agreeing to disagree

I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm, and I deliberated for a long time before deciding to write this article. If you read the comments section of the Seattle Times article, you’ll see why – passions run high, and people can be rather mean-spirited behind the guise of anonymity.

Those angry anonymous comments and their ridiculous stereotypes of Mercer Island only make one thing clear – those people don’t live on Mercer Island, and they don’t understand our community.

Meg Lippert, a Concerned Citizens representative, has been interviewed by several media outlets about her organization’s stance and initiative. I admire Lippert’s advocacy work and joined her advocacy efforts recently on behalf of the Mercer Island Library.

But on MICA, we respectfully disagree with each other. And I have to say, our community members’ passion for their community – parks, arts, and otherwise – is one of the reasons I love Mercer Island.

I am hoping that most people agree with MICA – and I believe that support has been demonstrated, and the City Council heard our voices when they agreed to lease the acre to MICA.  But people also have the right to “fight” – as the Times put it, and metaphorically speaking, of course – for what they believe in.

What’s your take on this conversation in the community?  I respectfully look forward to your comments.

Additional Reading:

“The Only Children’s Theater on Mercer Island Might Die Because of Park Purists”The Stranger

“Fight on the Eastside over 1 acre of parkland”The Seattle Times

“Mercer Island gets in touch with its artsy side” – Crosscut

“Q&A | Mercer Island’s ‘protect our parks’ petition”Mercer Island Reporter

“Private use of public land”Mercer Island Reporter

“Talk of the Town: MICA and Mercerdale Park”My Mercer Island

Mercer Island Center for the Arts 2015 Annual Report