By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Gov. Jay Inslee this week appointed Karen Hanan of Port Angeles to be executive director of the arts commission after an application process that began in November.
“It's almost a little unreal,” Hanan said. “I know there was extremely stiff competition for it.”
Hanan founded the Juan de Fuca Fest in 1992, leaving in 2000 to head Arts Northwest, a private nonprofit based in Port Angeles that serves four states.
After nearly 14 years leading Arts Northwest, Hanan had decided it was time for a change.
“I'm ready for a whole new set of challenges,” she said.
Those challenges will begin March 1, when Hanan takes the reins of the Washington State Arts Commission, also called ArtsWA, a state agency founded in 1971 to promote the arts across the state.
Hanan said she was one of 40 applicants from across the country who applied to the director position.
She went through a phone interview and three in-person interviews before she was chosen.
“I was sort of pleasantly surprised each time I kept passing another hurdle and [moved on] to the next interview,” Hanan said.
The board of directors of Arts Northwest, a performing arts service organization with more than 500 members across Washington, California, Idaho and Oregon, will likely begin the search for a new executive director in the coming weeks, Hanan said.
“The organization's in pretty good shape, so we're hoping it will be a relatively smooth process,” Hanan said.
Hanan said she was most proud of her work doubling Arts Northwest's membership and improving member teamwork.
“The field works better when we all work together,” she said.
Hanan, originally from England, said she plans to keep an eye on the Juan de Fuca Fest, which she ran until 2000.
“It's still kind of my baby in many ways,” she said. “I follow it closely.”
As arts commission director, Hanan will lead a state agency with a $2.9 million budget that has seen major declines in state appropriations since 2009, said outgoing Executive Director Kris Tucker.
Between 2009 and 2012, Tucker said, the state Legislature reduced state contributions to the commission from about $3 million per year to $1.1 million for 2013-14.
“It was pretty awful,” Tucker said.
The remainder of the commission's 2013-14 budget came from an $800,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and about $1 million generated from the Art in Public Places program, Tucker explained, which is funded by half of 1 percent of the state's portion of public construction costs.
The commission uses these funds to promote arts education in public schools and award grants to community arts projects and programs across the state, Tucker explained.
“Our funding is really small, but we've found that it leverages pretty significant results in especially, I would say, smaller communities like Port Angeles,” Tucker said.
The Juan de Fuca Fest has been a recipient of arts commission grants, Tucker said, as has the Centrum arts organization in Port Townsend.
Hanan said one of her first focuses as commission director will be to address funding losses.
“I would like to be able to lead the process to regain the ground that was lost and gain some,” Hanan said.
As part of this work, Hanan said she expects to spend most of her weeks in Olympia advocating arts funding to state legislators.
“It's a political appointment to some extent because you're working in the Legislature and trying to advance the cause of the arts across the state,” Hanan said.
“A fair bit of time will be spent in the Legislature once the sessions starts.”
Hanan also will be responsible for the commission's collection of more than 4,500 artworks installed in public spaces and buildings across the state, including a handful on Peninsula College's Port Angeles campus, and will be the public face of the commission.
Tucker said she has complete confidence in Hanan, whom she's known for 15 years through the Juan de Fuca Fest and Arts Northwest.
“I think she's the right person for the job,” Tucker said.
Hanan, who lives in Port Angeles with her husband, Steve, said she will likely spend most weekdays in Olympia but come back to Port Angeles for the weekends.
Hanan said she and her husband are not planning to move at this point, though she said they'll see how the commute works out.
“I'm very excited and honored to have been chosen, but Port Angeles is still definitely very much my home,” Hanan said.
“And the connection here will remain robust and strong, that's for sure.”
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.