Sandpoint’s Pend Oreille Arts Council

Photo of Flamenco Pacifico program, hosted by the Pend Oreille Arts Council.

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By KATHLEEN MULROY

Back in the 1970s, Sandpoint was certainly not the sought-after vacation destination it has become. But even then, artists were drawn to the area by the remarkable beauty of its rugged mountains and jewel-like lakes. 

In 1978, a group of residents met to discuss how to support this burgeoning artistic community and promote the visual and performing arts. The result was the nonprofit Pend Oreille Arts Council (POAC). 

POAC’s original goals were to help artists of the region through public and private sources; increase residents’ understanding of and participation in the arts; provide educational opportunities for artists and residents of all ages; and actively promote and sponsor the visual and performing arts through festivals, workshops, demonstrations, and productions. 

POAC began offering a handful of concerts, a few art exhibits, and an arts and crafts fair. As the organization grew in scope, the first executive director, Ginny Jensen, was hired. She served from 1986-1999. When Jensen first came on board, she and the board of directors met in a spare room in her home. 

Today, the POAC has its own gallery and offices on Main Street in downtown Sandpoint. It serves artists, the general public, and students through a year-round slate of performances and programs, which take place on local stages, in schools, at downtown public spaces and parks, and in many art galleries. 

Current board president Carol Deaner says, “We believe we have held close to POAC’s objectives with our many programs and services,” and, over the years, have “added to POAC’s strength and growth.”

Artist Programs

Because a major component of POAC’s mission has always been to support the local and regional art community, the council has developed several programs to specifically benefit artists.

Artist members have opportunities to show their work at 11 galleries in Sandpoint and other, nearby areas, as well as at POAC’s gallery in the historic City Hall building. 

An annual Art Walk takes place in downtown Sandpoint during the summer months, showcasing artists’ works at more than 30 downtown businesses and galleries. 

A two-day juried Arts & Crafts Fair is held in Sandpoint each summer. The Fair includes artists’ booths, food vendors, and the popular Kaleidoscope Kids Booth, where children can try out arts and craft projects and get their faces painted. Artists sell their works in sculpture, ceramics, metal, fiber, photography, paintings, mixed media, wood, and a variety of crafts. All proceeds of the Fair go directly to support POAC’s programs in the visual and performing arts and art education for the community.

First Fridays are monthly gallery sales for member artists, held at the POAC gallery.

Classes

For students in grades three through six, the Kaleidoscope Visual Arts Educational Outreach Program offers free, high-quality classes on the fundamentals of art. Trained instructors offer monthly hands-on, art lessons during the school day in local elementary schools. At the end of each school year, POAC exhibits students’ art works in a show at a public gallery.

Older adults who are interested in exploring their “inner artist,” may attend free art classes in Sandpoint. The program—humorously named The Geezer Gallery—is the result of a collaboration between POAC and two other nonprofits, Sandpoint Area Seniors and The Geezer Forum. 

Taught by professional artists, the classes may include drawing and mixed media, plein air painting, fiber arts, ceramics, and wire wrapping. For information, or to sign up for a class (the fall session begins in October), contact [email protected] or call (208)263-6860. 

Performing Arts Series

In the realm of the performing arts, POAC organizes and sponsors an annual Performing Arts Series, which brings a wide range of culturally diverse, family-friendly music, dance, and theatrical presentations to the public during the fall, winter, and spring months. All public performances are held at Sandpoint’s historic Panida Theater, and the cost of tickets is kept affordable to enable as many people as possible to attend. There will be seven programs during the 2021-2022 season (see the line-up at POAC’s website, www.artinsandpoint.org). 

Held in tandem with the Performing Arts Series is Ovations, an educational outreach program for students. Local children have the opportunity to audition for and perform in the yearly Eugene Ballet’s The Nutcracker, and in a Missoula Children’s Theatre performance. The Ovations program involves visiting artists from other Performing Arts Series programs who perform at Sandpoint-area schools. Adding to Ovations’ educational component, performers lead post-program workshops and discussion groups for student audiences. 

A new program for students, called Sandpoint Showstoppers, will be offered next year. This will be a series of workshops designed for children in third through sixth grades, to be held over a five-week period. The workshops will take place at the Panida Theater and will cover all aspects of a theater show’s development.

The Pend Oreille Arts Council, which is administered by two full-time staff members, has an active board of directors and is assisted by many community volunteers. The nonprofit receives support through grants from the Idaho Commission on the Arts, the Idaho Humanities Council, the Western States Arts Federation, the Idaho Community Foundation, the Innovia Foundation, the Community Assistance League, and other public and private entities. POAC also receives support from ticket sales and donations from local businesses and individuals. 

POAC’s mission statement succinctly expresses the nonprofit’s ultimate goal: “The Pend Oreille Arts Council exists to facilitate quality experiences in the arts through educational programs and presentations that benefit the people of North Idaho.” ISI

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