There’s a new reason to visit spectacular San Juan Island this summer: Alchemy Art Center. This ambitious project, situated on a picturesque piece of property, offers classes, programs for all ages and access to studio space for ceramics, printmaking and photo developing. They offer year-round programs to residents of the islands, as well as a variety of options for visitors that would like to include the arts in their travels.
Alchemy is inspired by the childhood experiences of Founder and Co-Director Maria Michaelson. “I was born and grew up on San Juan Island. I went to art school, and moved back to the island in 2012. I realized that I missed having an adult art community where people could exchange ideas,” she says. “Also, off-island, people have wood shop class and photography darkrooms in high school, but here it’s a small community so we don’t have equipment-intensive art forms available to young people.”
Kids of all ages can find themselves enchanted as they wander the paths between the trees that connect some unique and inspiring buildings. “My husband Eben and I found this piece of property that already had permits, it already had five buildings and a large well, so it’s set up for large groups of people,” Michaelson says. “And now we can open it up to visitors from off-island, and have a diverse group of people out here.”
Co-Director Glenn Hendrick has been involved since the planning stages. “I grew up mostly in the Midwest, in Ohio, and I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and lived in Chicago for about 10 years,” she says. “I moved out to the island sight unseen for an internship with a horse trainer. I got involved in the community and ended up putting down roots out here, and worked in farming and landscaping and economic development on the island before landing at Alchemy when I saw where Maria was going with this concept.”
That concept is already far-reaching, and the programs offered are plentiful. “As a nonprofit, our mission is to provide art access to islanders, and arts experience that bridge professional artists from off-island to artist communities from the islands,” Michaelson says. “We have kids’ programs, an artist in residence program, a series of artist talks, and a residential community to provide housing for artists.”
Since they’re situated in an area that attracts a lot of tourism, they’ve geared their schedule toward those who are looking to travel to a destination for recreation. “We have weekend workshops we can offer year round, but our summer programming is a lot more geared towards short-term classes for visitors, and our winter classes are more long-term intensives,” says Michaelson.
Because those visitors are traveling on their own schedule, Alchemy has built flexibility into their operations. “We just introduced our small, private classes that can be scheduled on your own time, so that people who are just coming for a weekend, or when we’re not offering a specific class, can hook up with our artists in residence and coordinate a session for them or their family,” Hendrick says. Interested parties can send an email to learn more, or to schedule a visit to the center.
In addition to providing a home base, Alchemy also ventures off campus to find the public where they work and play. “We take our programming out to kids as part of the Family Resource Center Mentorship Program school day camps,” says Hendrick. “We just introduced a series of workshops that are taught by our visiting artists, offered free of charge to all age groups through the Parks and Recreation Department, and at the San Juan Island Sculpture Park—a lot of our community outreach programming is funded by community donations, grants and fundraisers.”
While they receive funding from the NEA, ArtsWA and the San Juan Island Community Foundation, they’re also happy to hear from individuals interested in supporting their mission.
They’ve made joining easy, whether you live nearby or plan on catching a ferry. “We have a couple of options for membership now. We’ve got a monthly membership, which is geared towards residents of the islands, or folks who are going to be here for the whole summer,” says Hendrick. “We also have punch card memberships that are really geared towards visitors.”
From kids who live down the road to residents of Whatcom County and visitors from around the world, Alchemy’s open-armed attempt to include everyone is no accident. “There’s a very strong element of magic that bubbles up from all of these different people having contact and sharing ideas with each other,” Hendrick says. “So much more learning takes place when there are multiple voices, and different people working in the same place together.”