After 14 years of operation, Issaquah’s ArtEast Arts Center is closing.
ArtEast board directors made the announcement on the center’s Facebook page July 18.
“We are heartbroken to share that due to an ongoing lack of critical funding and insufficient cash flow to maintain operations, ArtEast will be closing by the end of the month,” the announcement stated.
ArtEast’s last day of retail sales was Sunday, July 21.
“From its founding days, ArtEast has been a volunteer-driven organization full of spirit and passion. We have often felt that spirit and passion reflected back to us by our students, artists, teachers, loyal customers, neighbors and partners,” the announcement states, now hung in ArtEast’s front window. “There are countless, great stories that have taken place at ArtEast over the last 14 years, and there is no doubt that it has been a special place for all of us.”
ArtEast was a nonprofit organization that supported visual arts on the Eastside through its collective gallery, educational programs and community events.
Former ArtEast executive director Karen Abel said what started as a grassroots effort in 2004 grew to become a thriving, creative community. Upon learning of Art East’s closing, Abel said she felt sad and frustrated for the first few moments, but then couldn’t help but remember her years of wonderful memories.
“I immediately thought of all the lives that were touched by ArtEast,” Abel said. “And the difference this organization has had on people. I can’t help but smile.”
To many, it’s the sense of community that has helped make ArtEast a local fixture.
Monica Phillips made the decision to move to Issaquah after seeing ArtEast’s sign while driving down Front Street.
“As soon as I saw that this town had a glass blowing studio and an art gallery, I knew it was worth moving here,” she said.
That was 10 years ago. Since then, Phillips has volunteered with ArtEast as a contributing artist, served as a collective works coordinator, a jewelry teacher and, until the end of July, as a member on the board of directors.
What sets ArtEast apart from other local art galleries, Phillips said, is the “welcoming, neighborhood feel.”
“I always thought ArtEast was unique. I loved the camaraderie among artists, I loved the relationships I’ve made, I loved everything about it,” she said. “I feel really fortunate to be a part of this community.”
Phillips and Abel both said that as a nonprofit gallery, ArtEast filled a rare niche, offering the community a range of highly valued collector works alongside more affordable art.
Unlike many art galleries in the greater Seattle area, ArtEast was only part gallery—it offered various art classes and workshops for anyone to participate in. For years, ArtEast was also closely involved with community programs and events, especially ones where experienced artists and beginners were paired together to create an original piece.
Artist Margaret Maclean said ArtEast was a place where she felt at home.
“It’s been a great place for me to find an audience for my work,” she said. “I always loved the accessibility of the art and the community.”
Phillips and Abel said galleries like ArtEast are unique and rare.
“I always liked the eclectic nature of our gallery,” Phillips said. “We had a huge range of price points…we had pieces from $2,000 down to $20. But we mostly had just a lot of people who would drop in because they just really enjoyed being here. It was really perfect for Issaquah.”
Now, members, artists and community members are mourning the loss of ArtEast.
According to Phillips, ArtEast has been struggling to maintain secure funding for some time.
“Most nonprofits are in this situation,” she said. “We really tried as hard as we could — explored every option. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
ArtEast vice president Andrea Lewicki said she feels a range of emotions regarding ArtEast’s closing.
“I feel sad, disappointed … but I also am in awe that [ArtEast] even happened in the first place,” she said. “It was built on the passion of volunteers. I hope people are proud of the work they’ve done with ArtEast.”
Anyone involved with ArtEast, she said, had an emotional connection.
“I want people to know how much it mattered to us to see people come in, take a class or attend an event,” she said. “We got to see the love we put out there reflected back to us.”
While ArtEast may have closed its doors, Abel, Phillips, Lewicki and Maclean are confident art will remain — and grow — in the community.
“People know the arts are integral to life,” Phillips said. “Art is always important and we have people here who know that. Art reaches everyone.”
Abel said the grassroots energy that was used to create ArtEast is still here, and there will still be art and artists on the Eastside.
“ArtEast started without a facility,” Abel said. “The arts will continue without four walls.”