Nancy Whitlock - photo by Terry Schmidbauer

Nancy Whitlock - photo by Terry Schmidbauer

“It all started with a shirt.” In an exclusive interview with our friends at earthbongo, NatureC director Nancy Whitlock tells how she got the idea to bring her community together around arts and nature. 

How was Nature Consortium born?

“It all started with a shirt.  When my son Ian was born in 1996 I decided to quit working and stay home.  We didn’t have any family in the area and were the first amongst our group of friends to make the leap towards having kids.  We had been doing a lot of mountain biking and rock climbing with friends, which came to screeching halt with a baby.   In being home all the time, I had this overwhelming desire to meet and know our neighborhoods and feel connected to those around us.

During this time I was also feeling creative so I started writing again and making cards.  I made a line of cards which had swatches of cloth from the sleeves of a very colorful shirt I had.  The cards were decorated with cloth, rubber stamping and colored pencil drawings.

As a way to meet neighbors I got the idea to host a festival on my block, with the theme being “What is your art?”   So I knocked on doors and passed out flyers and organized the Perennial Cloverdale Art & Barter Festival.  We blocked off the street for part of a day – Saturday, August 23, 1997.  I sold my cards, other neighbors had quilts, paintings, photography, music and kids hands-on art activities.  There were also those who didn’t have art to share, but joined in the festivities by hosting yard and garage sales.

There were people who had lived on the block for years and had never met each other.  It was exactly the feeling I was looking for.  And then it was over in a day.  So I got the idea to host a big arts festival at Lincoln Park the next year.  I schemed, planned, wrote a few grants, solicited donations and sponsorships, and hosted West Seattle’s Art-Nature-Literature Festival in August 1998.  That’s how the organization started.  After 2 years we shortened the name to the Arts in Nature Festival and moved it to Camp Long.  It’s a much longer story about how NC’s Youth Art Program and Forest Restoration Project were born from the festival.”

As the founder and now Executive Director, what observations have you made about Nature Consortium’s impact in our area over the years?

“I’ve seen the impact in so many different ways.  From the thousands of joyous faces, of all ages and races, at the festival each year to the learning and changes in youth who participate in our Youth Art Program and come back, by choice, week after week and some youth, year after year.  And then there’s the slow and dramatic change that has taken place in the West Duwamish Greenbelt over the past nine years.  Areas that were once swallowed by blackberry and ivy are now flourishing with native plants and trees.  We’ve planted over 20,000 trees and many of the trees that we planted in the first few years are now much taller than me.  That’s a good feeling.  When we first started restoration work in the greenbelt in 2003 you very rarely saw people out there hiking, walking their dogs, running, etc.  Now we almost always see recreational users out there no matter what day of the week it is.”

Check out the full interview on the earthbongo blog.