Q&A with new MICA Executive Director Paul Shoemaker

March 5, 2018 | by Erin Sirianni

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The Mercer Island Center for the Arts has been in the works since 2013. It began as the Mercer Island Performing Arts Center (MIPAC), envisioned as a year-round venue for theatre, dance, music, and all other performance art. In early 2014, MIPAC evolved to become  the Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) with an expanded vision to showcase all art forms and to partner with visual arts organizations, including the Mercer Island Visual Arts League.

In 2015, a rift developed in the community in regard to the proposed site of the arts center. Plans showed that MICA would be situated on approximately an acre of the northwest corner of Mercerdale Park where currently stand a retired recycling center, public restrooms, and a wooded area.

Critics object to the encroachment of park space. MICA supporters have argued that MICA will be enhancement to the park. Despite the division, MICA moved forward through State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review process toward obtaining a lease from the City.

However, in October 2017, the City of Mercer Island and the Mercer Island Center for the Arts announced they would be exploring alternative sites to the proposed arts center, putting previous plans for building the center at Mercerdale Park on “pause.”

On February 7, 2018 following a study session with the Mercer Island City Council, MICA shared in a press release its plans “to embark on a public engagement process” … and announced new organization leadership, including five new board members, and the creation of an Emeritus Board.

It also announced its hiring of an Executive Director, Paul Shoemaker, a recognized expert in the non-profit sector; a consultant and author of the book, Can’t Not Do; and Founding President of Social Venture Partners International.
Curious to learn more, we reached out to Shoemaker with several questions about his involvement with MICA and the organization’s next steps for moving forward. We hope you’ll enjoy his responses:

How did you get involved with the Mercer Island Center for the Arts?
I’ve lived on the island for 22 years. We raised our three sons here. Last summer, the MICA Task Force asked me if I’d spend some time with them, in a consulting role, to help them figure out the best path forward. We had some great discussions, the board made some courageous decisions, and in December, they asked if I’d want to stick around and play a staff role. I thought about it for a while and decided to join the team because 1) it’s a chance to really invest in my own community like I haven’t been able to before, 2) it’s a fascinating challenge to see if a whole community can find a common vision, and 3) I’ve seen what the Mercer Island High School band does for my 16-year-old drummer so I truly get the value of the arts.

What can the community expect in regard to the upcoming public engagement process?
Our goal is to get as much input from as many people as we can in as many ways as we can to help us answer – what does our community want for the future of arts on MI?! What do they want to see in a new space for the arts? We will widely promote many opportunities to give input – in person, online, in community gatherings, etc. The City of Mercer Island is concurrently going to get public input on how the arts should fit into the City’s goals and values broadly. It’s very synergistic. If anyone wants us to know what they want for arts on MI, they can email me anytime – [email protected]. Look for more information in late March / early April in lots of places, including www.mercerislandarts.org

Why do think its important that the community pushes forward with efforts to bring an arts center to the island?
There are so many reasons – an MI arts center has the potential to revitalize the town center in some wonderful ways; we know there is a huge need for space for many arts organizations on Mercer Island, like Youth Theatre Northwest, and it’s been that way for many years; and I think it’s fun and inspiring to ask – what if the whole community coming together was the hero of this story? Imagine what would be possible.  
Photo credit:  Paul Shoemaker