Carol Thomas was impressed by Everett’s commitment to artistry even before landing her job as cultural arts manager.
Long before she took the arts position in 2007, she was wowed by the 1940s Kenneth Callahan murals at Everett Station, originally painted for Weyerhaeuser’s Mill B in the city’s north end. “It was like a pilgrimage to see them,” she said of the murals depicting the logging industry. Thomas recalls telling others “if the city catches on fire, rescue the Callahan.”
Tuesday was her last day on the job.
Kimberley Cline, Everett’s communications director, said by email Tuesday that Thomas chose to participate in the city’s voluntary separation program, and her position was subsequently eliminated through an emergency budget amendment. Dozens of city employees lost jobs this spring as Everett faced a projected $14 million hole in its annual budget, largely due to coronavirus-related business shut-downs.
On Monday, Thomas talked about her tenure and what’s ahead for the arts in Everett.
“I arrived in Everett just as things were really taking off,” said Thomas, who has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Cornish College of the Arts.
The Wetmore Theater Plaza, outside the Everett Performing Arts Center, was one of Thomas’ first projects with the city. Whidbey Island artist Linda Beaumont spent years creating the sparkly mosaic wall, an undulating structure with a “moon gate” that serves as an entryway to a pedestrian alley.
Before the makeover, Thomas said, “it was a broken asphalt parking lot” between what was then the closed KeyBank and the theater entrance. Today, the bank building is the Cope Gillette Theatre that houses the Village Theatre’s Kidstage program. “It’s a magical space,” Thomas said of the plaza.
Other efforts launched by Thomas aren’t happening this year because of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I love Street Tunes. Ours was one of the first in the Northwest,” she said. In summers past, the city put pianos on the sidewalks, outside the Everett Public Library, coffee shops and other downtown locations. Music at the Marina has also been a joyous tradition in Everett, another program canceled this year due to the pandemic.
Everett’s Fourth of July parade, festival and fireworks also won’t happen. Thomas is proud of how those annual events, which she has worked on in years past, have brought so many people together. “We called the Fourth celebration the Colors of Freedom. It wasn’t red, white and blue — it was everybody,” she said, adding that parade entries represented the region’s diversity. “When people see themselves, it makes them feel welcome.”
Thomas recalled another arts project during her tenure, the 2014 restoration of the Charles Sorensen painting titled “Everett in 1892.” Part of an historical display in the Wall Street Building, it had long been in storage. With it are the names of people who contributed to Everett’s 1993 centennial celebration.
Working with the makers of films and TV commercials has also been part of Thomas’ role. She was involved in helping location crews working in Everett on a revival of the “Twin Peaks” television show, feature films “The Architect” and “7 Minutes,” a Fruity Pebbles cereal commercial, and other productions.
“One of the funniest experiences was with location scouts for ‘7 Minutes.’ They were standing in the middle of Everett Avenue, looking all around and saying ‘Oh my God, there are mountains on both sides,” Thomas said.
Thomas said Everett’s emphasis on art dates to 1974. The city was one of the first in the United States to adopt a percent-for-art ordinance. It calls for 1% of eligible city capital improvement funds to be set aside for the commission, purchase and installation of artwork.
Evidence of that ordinance is on display all over the city, in a public art collection that includes many downtown sculptures and works at the Evergreen Arboretum. Some works are city-owned, others are leased from artists. There are also several downtown sculptures commissioned by the Skotdal family.
Thomas has high praise for members of the city’s Cultural Arts Commission, all volunteers. And her departure doesn’t spell the end of Everett’s art projects.
“Good stuff is still to come,” Thomas said. Brian Borrello will soon install 22 sculptural bike racks on Broadway and several sculptures. The art lighting installation on Hoyt Avenue, titled “Inflorescence” and looking like pea pods, will be completed from the Imagine Children’s Museum to Pacific Avenue.
“We brought artists Alex Eremian and Ricardo Richey in to paint the south wall of the Schack Art Center,” Thomas said. More murals are coming. In July, a dragon will be painted on the alley side of the Schack. Another mural will be installed on the building that houses El Paraiso restaurant.
Cline said the city’s commitment to the arts remains strong, and the Cultural Arts Department will continue. Kimberly Shelton, the city’s assistant parks director, will be the liaison with the Arts Commission and will be responsible for public art and the 2020 art grant administration.
”We were so sad to have had to cancel so many beloved cultural arts events and programs in 2020 due to impacts from the pandemic,” said Cline, adding that the city remains committed to the arts. Efforts continue to form a Creative District downtown, offer tourism activities and support the sculptures and murals program.
“These are all programs Carol spearheaded, and the city is grateful for her commitment to the arts in Everett,” Cline said.
Even in times of tight budgets, Thomas sees great value in the arts.
“All of our history is recorded through art,” she said. “It is how we record humanity. It is how we build community.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.