On May 19, 1958, a small art exhibit opens at the Surf and Sand Marina, a notable building on the Edmonds waterfront in Snohomish County north of Seattle. Its sponsor is the Edmonds Coterie Club, which was organized in 1909 when the small waterfront village still reflected its pioneer days of logging and shingle mills. Only some 15 artists display work at this first exhibit, but the Coterie Club will continue to organize art exhibits in subsequent years, and the events will grow to become the annual Edmonds Arts Festival, one of the leading local arts events in the state.
The women who formed the Coterie Club in the first decade of the twentieth century sought to bring "attainment of a higher literary culture" to Edmonds (Cloud, 130). Their meetings included discussions and programs to elevate the thinking of the members, and their activities also extended to broader community affairs including fund drives for worthy causes and the sale of World War I Liberty Bonds. The Coterie Club incorporated in 1927 and proceeded to raise funds that made possible the purchase of its own downtown building the next year.
Among Coterie's activities was encouragement of the arts. By the mid twentieth century the group was regularly supporting displays of works by well-known artists that the Seattle Art Museum loaned to schools and other venues. The club also promoted community exhibits of work by Edmonds High School students, many under the tutelage of art teacher Malvina Heiberg (d. 1984). By 1958, members were talking about extending this role into a broader field. That year JoAnn Warner, a local interior designer who had become president of Coterie, learned that space for an exhibit was available on the second floor of the Surf and Sand Marina. Warner later recalled the hurried informal efforts by local women and businesspeople who were newcomers to mounting an art show. But they persevered and invited local artists and craftspeople to show and sell their works.
"Haphazard but Well-meaning"
Held during the week of May 19-24, 1958, this "haphazard but well-meaning art exhibit," as Warner later recalled it, had perhaps no more than 15 exhibitors, but it marked the beginning of what would become one of Edmonds's most distinctive annual events and one of the region's premier art festivals (Celebrating 50 Years ..., 9).
That September Warner invited Coterie board members to her home to begin plans for a second arts fair to be held the following summer. Further meetings followed, this time with more formal goals and intent and with intensive organizing. The group sought support from additional local organizations, and even aspired to eventually have a building where artwork could be displayed and sold year-around. That second festival -- and those of the two following years -- were held on Main Street in downtown Edmonds with display galleries set up in the Edmonds Library. The festival grew at these sites, attracting additional artists and patrons.
Once the event logged its first profit, $75, in 1976, the organizers incorporated the Edmonds Arts Festival Foundation. In 1980 the festival moved to a permanent location at the Frances Anderson Cultural Center, which the City of Edmonds had recently created from the former Edmonds Elementary School. Inside displays were set up in the gymnasium, former classrooms, and hallways with abundant room for display tents and outdoor activities on an adjoining plaza and playfields. Entertainment and a variety of food choices enhanced the festival that became a premier activity in the state of Washington.
Meanwhile, the Surf and Sand Marina building where it all began became the home of the Edmonds Senior Center in 1968. The Senior Center occupied the building through 2018. It was scheduled for demolition in January 2019, to be replaced by a new Senior Center building as part of the Edmonds Waterfront Center.