The Only Children's Theater on Mercer Island Might Die Because of Park Purists

The Infuriating Campaign to Keep Youth Theatre Northwest from Having the Home It Deserves


While I certainly agree with this article, I would like to point out that the recycling building isn't empty and unused. I used to work at the nearby thrift store run by Mercer Island Youth and Family Services, and they use the trailer and building to store items. The building specifically houses holiday items that the store saves and brings out to sell on holidays. Perhaps that is also part of the reason they are so hesitant to let them build an arts center.
I think it also bears mentioning that YTN provides employment for a lot of people, especially Seattle theater people. Besides the small full-time staff of six (disclosure: my wife is one of them) they produce up to 12 shows a year plus a ton of drama classes and camps that create work for educators, writers, directors, designers, musical directors, stage managers, and others. Granted it doesn't pay a king's ransom (what non-profit does, because I want to work at that one) but they do provide a little something for people who have chosen a life of art and education. So for anyone who cannot grasp the abstract concepts of art or creativity or expression, I say "JOBS!" because that's easier to comprehend for some.
Sorry to hear this. The links to, and importance for, Seattle theater artists cannot be overstated. Our child discovered a love for theater while attending a Seattle Public Schools high school that had no theater program - not even an afterschool club - so seeking out and participating in area theater companies was vital. There were none in our part of the city. We were fortunate enough to have the time and money to drive our child to other areas that did - and for one summer, that included YTN. Our child is now grown, enrolled at an arts college in another part of the country, going for a BFA in theater. It's an endangered part of our culture in so many ways. I cannot imagine anyone taking issue with a youth-theater program.
A recycling center that local residents are defending? Mercer Island truly is the strange and backward land I always imagined.
I hope the Youth Theater prevails - and the Mercerdale Park would be a wonderful location. Ira is a long-time curmudgeon who fights local changes at every turn. Of course, I'm no longer a Mercer Island resident, so I don't have a vested interest. This kind of debate is another reason why I'm glad to have moved to a more sane community.
A park is not merely open space for sports, it is a gathering place for all, not only the athletic, and the those that want to retain status quo of the narrow definition of a park, but for the people of the future, the children, and those that nurture them to become the adults, artists, creators and leaders of the future. How can we decide an arbitrary use of land only for a narrow view of what is important? Whether you value the talents of those that will come after you, is it your place to limit their opportunity to share their value over the value of a narrow view of today's wants? I think not. Please reconsider and move to a more global path, so that the talents of other may be appreciated by people other than yourselves.
Asking your readers to "troll" is completely inappropriate; it does nothing to further the debate, and what's worse, trolling is associated with harassment, cyber bullying and malicious behavior. But in any case, this article does represent a typical knee-jerk reaction to this drama, and some points deserve responding to. (1) The suburban sports jock norm... I can say two things about this. The preppie sports-centric culture is alive and well on the Island. But the artsy, creative one is too. The high school drama department is robust and fabulous; K-12 arts are featured every year in a huge showcase; and music at the high school is off the charts. The band alone has something like a quarter of the school's enrollment (one in four students), and what's more, a huge number of these musicians are cross-enrolled in athletics. That right there should blow up any myths about an 80's style nerd vs. jock segregation, as fun as they are to entertain. (2) MICA might have to go from fundraising mode to campaign mode. Well, this is obscuring some of the on-the-ground history. MICA has been in a campaign mode of sorts for a while, and in a way that has rubbed many Islanders the wrong way and contributed to this whole mess in the first place. Something like a year ago, glossy blue campaign signs appeared all over the place, well before the pro-parks group was really mobilized. The weird part was, voters were told that they would have no say in the matter, and in fact MICA was pressuring the city council not to allow a vote (see Robynne Parkinson's quote; how many of you would nod with this kind of elitism if this were about building a ritzy golf course?). Campaign signs + no input = "We're going to make this decision for you and we hope you like it"? A strange equation that was probably a gaffe on MICA's part that just built suspicion. (3) The contra-case is ancient history. You don't even need to go to Appleman's examples: several years ago there was a big push to lease for $1 a parcel of city land that was deemed "surplus", to the Boys and Girls Club under the name PEAK. The initiative succeeded, but a few short years later, elementary schools were deemed overcrowded and there was a scramble and heated debate much like this one to find suitable land. Is the Boys and Girls Club valuable to have? Of course it is. But the problem with these charitable lease deals is that they legally lock the city, which represents the electorate = island families, out of that resource and destroy our flexibility to serve. "Surplus land" was obviously a misnomer, but once the dye is cast, it's too late to re-evaluate and look for solutions that would benefit all stakeholders to the greatest possible degree. Instead you have a parallel system growing up, private but "for public" (rarely with any safeguards), alongside our shared public system. Just to complete the irony here, it was YTN that was kicked out of its old structure when the new school broke ground. If you take a step back then, there is a pattern of interrelation and yes, competition between public needs and this parallel private world, that increasingly has to be worked around rather than worked with. Who can anticipate the rapidly changing environment of Mercer Island town center, especially with light rail coming in? What will our needs and options be then?

This leads me to a final point. Natural space is a priority, and the arts is a priority. It's precisely for this reason that privatization in this case is such a strange solution. If these things are what matters to our community, then the community as a whole should address them. We build community centers with public money, and then have a legally enforceable system for serving our area; we don't privatize this whole function to a benevolent nonprofit. What I hear MICA really saying is that the arts matter, and that the arts are underserved on the Island, but that these goals quietly exist alongside another priority: that these centers have operational sovereignty. Existing above and beyond public meddling might be good for NGOs and private business, but why here? MICA's proposed tenants, and proposed beneficiaries, are all so local. So we're caught in a weird, contradictory loop: It's for the community, and it's for the children, but we don't want the community to be the operational player. I would turn this logic on its head to get to the natural solution. It's for the community; why not put this problem of the arts to all of us, with the powers of fundraising and donations, and see what solution we as a community can provide? It worked beautifully for the Community Center model. What many people stand against is not the arts, but private organizations that want to have their cake and eat it too.
This piece does a great job making the case for MICA and YTN. I think that most Islanders who oppose MICA just don´t realize what a precarious position YTN is in and I think this reporting would change a lot of minds.

I do think this piece is unfair to the "Protect our Parks" crowd, though, in the sense that it ignores a legitimate feeling that the quiet, open, natural spaces that have long been so cherished by Islanders are disappearing. While the City may have acquired 28.8 acres of parkland over the past 30 years, Island residents have been seeing every last foot of buildable private land disappear in the same period.

I imagine tensions about changes to longstanding parks are especially high now that more modest, older homes and their accompanying large, green properties are being replaced by the second with Jay Marc mega homes that take up most of the lot. While MICA footprint shown in the aerial photo looks small, it would cut into the wooded area on the backside of the project. I realize that this is a small issue relative to the benefit of MICA, but as someone who lives in this area and walks in those woods and watches birds almost every day, it does make me uneasy to see even more bird habitat disappear on the island.

Initially I opposed MICA because I didn´t want to see that natural area disturbed; I don´t personally care about the encroachment on the lawn portion of the park. I also certainly don´t oppose the use of City parkland for arts uses. So I agree with another commenter that the article is unfair in casting the POP people as anti-arts, pro-sports(?) NIMBYs.

Instead I think there´s valid anxiety among some on the island about disappearing natural areas and open spaces, and just some of the general change that´s been happening as a generation of more modest homes (and with it a lot of big trees and yard space) goes through a demolition and rebuilding boom. That feeling also accounts for the outrage over the Kite Hill garage project. I can especially appreciate how residents who have lived here for decades and realize just how much natural, open space has disappeared see any new project as a threat.

Nonetheless, MICA is an important project, YTN seems to truly have run out of options, and this is the wrong battleground for a Protect our Parks campaign. I work with teenagers on the Island and the pressure to conform the prevailing social ideals is real and damaging. I couldn´t agree more that a home for the arts and a refuge for these kids should be at the top of this community´s priority list.
The Emmanuel Episcopal Church, now serving as the interim venue for YTN, has a long history on the island of supporting good causes. In 1945, the same hall was donated as space for the first public library on the island.
Could this be more insulting to the public? "It's an incredibly complex issue—where you lease land and how you lease land and whether the city can afford it—that's the kind of thing you don't want the public voting on. It's not an up-or-down-vote thing." Also to the person who finds Mercer Island strange, the recycling center isn't even used any more. The school district, which created it, is supposed to pay to have it torn down. If it did, the area could be returned to parkland.