Elk graze at Cascade Head; Sitka Center (upper right) surrounded by Sitka spruce.
In 1970, in the midst of the back-to-nature movement, two young artists -- Frank and Jane Boyden -- started a summer camp for kids on the Oregon coast. Their vision was to create a community where artists and scientists could live and work in the winter and teach classes in the summer, freed from the demands of academia and deeply immersed in the natural world.
From those early workshops in music, pinhole photography and marine biology grew the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. Named for the majestic spruce trees that shelter the property, the Sitka Center invites people of all ages and abilities to explore their creative potential in a place of rare natural beauty.
From the beginning, Sitka has been about collaboration-between art and science, diverse groups of people and with the land itself. The center occupies roughly an acre of ocean-view property donated by the developer of Cascade Head Ranch, an environmentally sensitive residential community at the mouth of the federally protected Salmon River estuary. A 270-acre Nature Conservancy preserve borders the property, which also is part of a national Scenic Research Area and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
In the early years, Sitka partnered with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and local schools to bring in summer day-campers, who explored ocean tide pools, hiked old-growth forests and played handmade instruments on a makeshift stage in the meadow. But the center's relatively remote location made transportation difficult. By the late-1970s, the summer program had evolved to focus primarily on adults, with a wide range of workshops including landscape painting, low-fire ceramics, calligraphy, writing and coastal ecology. A partnership with Linfield College in 1975 resulted in a series of public seminars on the relevant-and often controversial-issues of the day.
In 1981, Sitka invited its first artist-in-residence to spend the winter in the Boyden Studio, a modern, barn-like structure designed and built by University of Oregon architecture students. As the residency program evolved to include artists and scientists of international stature, as well as those just beginning their careers-and the popular summer workshops continued to expand-the Sitka campus grew as well. Today, a small cluster of cedar-clad studios and classrooms, "green" cottages and welcoming public spaces hugs the forested hillside. A sunny courtyard and meandering sculpture garden invite visitors to become part of this remarkable place, if only for a few hours.
In recent years, the Sitka Center has reached beyond its physical boundaries, bringing art and nature programs into local schools and hosting artist salons around the state. The Sitka Art Invitational, begun in 1993 and held each fall at the World Forestry Center in Portland, is the center's biggest fundraiser, netting 20 percent of its annual budget. Sitka students, teachers and residents take the transformative experiences they have here out into the world, creating a ripple effect that is difficult to measure. At heart, however, Sitka remains inextricably rooted to its place.
In 2010, the Oregon-based Ford Family Foundation recognized the Sitka Center as a "Golden Spot," a place of distinctive natural beauty that "inspires artists to conceptualize their work in new ways." It was that combination of awe-inspiring beauty and artistic freedom that drew founders Frank and Jane Boyden here in 1970, and that continues to bring creative people back year after year. "There's a tremendous power in this place, in this land," says Frank Boyden. "And I think that power really changes people's lives."
The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology is operated as a public educational project of the Neskowin Coast Foundation, which received its federal non-profit 501(c)(3) status in 1970. The mission of the Sitka Center is "to expand the relationships between art, nature and humanity through workshops, presentations, and individual research projects; and to maintain a facility appropriate to its needs that is in harmony with the inspirational coastal environment of Cascade Head."