New San Juan Island art center features protest art

Waves of protest about everything from human rights to the environment demonstrate the power of the people. The upcoming show “The Art of Protest” hopes to capture those voices and inspire others to express themselves.

“It’s invigorating to take action, during these critical times,” said Gretchen Allison, curator of “The Art of Protest,” which opens at the new Alchemy Art Center, 1255 Wold Road San Juan Island, May 4 through May 11. Admission is free, donations greatly appreciated.

Allison contemplated the project for a while, combining the powerful forces of art and protest, but there never seemed to be a venue that matched the show’s vision. Some places had waiting lists of two or more years. Allison did not want to wait and luckily the Alchemy Art Center opened. The exhibit suddenly began to fall into place.

Maria Michaelson, who grew up on San Juan Island, wanted to create something that brought the islands’ large art community together. She named it Alchemy Art because so many arts remind her of alchemy. Ceramics, for example, can feel very wizard like when creating various colors Michaelson said.

Like the “Art of Protest,” the center will combine many different art mediums. Available for the center’s members will be kilns for pottery, a darkroom for photography, a metal and bronze shop, ceramics room, glass room, space for classes, a library full of art books, a printing press, and eventually a space for woodworking as well. Interestingly much of the equipment Michaelson found herself inheriting from old islanders, like welding tools from Ernest Pugh. In fact, the very property the center is on is full of island history. Most recently, it was the home of a Buddhist temple, that later housed the environmental organization, Sea Shepherd. An interesting twist of fate as well, Island Stage Left, the local theater group, is located practically next door, a fact both Allison and Michaelson are very excited about possible collaboration. They dream of combined projects with the theater company.

Because island artists have a tendency to be an introverted community, the two hope both the show and the center will help bring people together, and as Michaelson put it, create cross-pollination with the arts.

As an example of the variety of art mediums, the scheduled events include:

May 5 is movie night, as the power of protest is projected onto the ceiling of the centers dome.

May 6 at 4 p.m. will be a poetry reading of classics read by Helen Machin-Smith and Daniel Mayes of Island Stage Left, as well as original works being read by their authors. Then, at 6:30 p.m. begins an incredible music line up including locals Gabe Maas, Daniel Finn and Savio Farrell.

May 7, those who remember the kayakers protesting a Shell oil rig docked in the Seattle Port June of 2015 will appreciate the appearance of kayakavist and executive director of the Backbone Campaign, Bill Moyers. His presentation will begin at 2 p.m.

Allison is encouraging anyone else who would like to participate in “The Art of Protest” to contact her at 378-5733 by May 2, adding that more events will be included as more people jump on board.

“There are many people who are depressed and feeling overwhelmed with what is happening in our country right now, but if we can all come together, we can make a difference,” Allison said, explaining that art is a good way both to process emotions and encourage others to speak out. The country, Allison said is going in the wrong direction, rolling back environmental protections, for example, trying to enact a travel ban on people from certain countries, and individuals can feel helpless as a result.

“Protesting is a patriotic thing to do to in order to protect our country, morality and our freedoms,” Michaelson said. “It is important for people or feel charged up in whatever skill set they are comfortable with, use whatever voice and talents they have to speak up.”

While the recent uptick of protests has been inspiring Allison said people have been building up to this for a number of years. She tells the story of participating in an environmental protest a long time ago and the crowd was very small. Now, according to Michaelson and Allison, people are realizing more and more what is at stake, and becoming involved.

“I have never seen a time when people are so riled up and willing to give their own time,” Michaelson said.

Whether or not protest have been successful, Allison said, “Not yet, but this is just the beginning. I hope this exhibit will inspire people to continue using their voice and continue to show up at protests.”

To see more pictures of “The Art of Protest,” visit