“Wait until you see inside it, Alison,” Assistant Director Nicola Harrison is jubilant. It is a golden November morning, and Nicola is on her way to install new curtains when our paths cross in the courtyard. “Morley House looks new again!”
The whole team is jubilant.
“Morley is looking spiffy in her new outfit,” Administrative Coordinator, Nancy Newman concurs.
“You can smell the new cedar from inside,” Facilities and Ecology Manager Jake Simondet who oversaw the renovation project shares, beaming with the satisfaction of a job beautifully done.
“Nancy, Jake and I scrubbed every nook and cranny of Morley for three hours yesterday while listening and singing along to the entirety of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro,” Nicola confesses. I picture them scurrying about to the opera’s overture as if making wedding day preparations.
Once upon a time in 1979, Morley House was Sitka’s first residence on campus and helped launch the Residency Program at the Center in 1981. The house was designed by Alfred Edelman and dedicated to Louise Morley who was a friend and neighbor of Sitka in its early years. Louise’s daughter, Virginia Morgan, served as Sitka’s second Executive Director from 1976 to 1979.
Today, with her failing siding replaced with fresh cedar and new windows and frames installed, Morley is indeed looking rejuvenated.
“It’s amazing how the new windows change the quality of the light in the space,” observes Workshop Coordinator Maria Elting. “It is so much brighter. Everyone is going to want to stay in Morley now.”
Later in the day, the celebratory mood among Sitka’s team amplifies as we receive word of two new administrative capacity-building grant awards totaling $198,000 for upcoming projects in 2024.
“I am truly impressed and in awe,” Sitka treasurer Dan Mueller shares as word spreads among the Center’s volunteer board members. “I am so impressed by all of you,” chimes in Todd Kimball, who provides third-party nonprofit financial expertise to Sitka. Dan, who is a retired CPA and the 145th person to serve on Sitka’s board since its establishment in 1970, and Todd are capable colleagues. Recent years have been challenging ones for many beloved Oregon arts and culture nonprofits, and our state has tragically lost some wonderful institutions. Dan and Todd’s expertise are one of many stabilizing factors that contribute to Sitka’s present-day fiscal health and sound, sustainable programming growth.
Out in the community, Sitka’s Youth Program is in session. Youth Program Manager Leeauna Perry reaches out to share insights from a recent “tree of life” activity. “In their images,” Leeauna explains, “the roots represent connection to their pasts and ancestors, the trunks connect them to the present and what is important in their lives now and the branches are their future connection to community and a changing world.”
“Since many of the kids we serve face poverty and other difficult circumstances,” Leeauna continues, “I gave them the option to use abstraction as a way to communicate personal information and emotions without exposure. If they wanted, kids also embedded secret messages using symbols and Morse code. Some of the images are truly powerful… It is an honor to witness kids opening up through art and the empathy that is present on Sitka art day among peers. Art is such an important outlet for self-expression. There is so much need.”
In the afternoon, with the new curtains hung just in time and the echoes of Mozart’s melodies still lingering in the air, artist and environmental activist Catherine Webb arrives for her Sitka residency. Road-weary from travel, Catherine is given the keys to Morley. From the courtyard outside Morley’s round window, the ocean is audible.
From its inception over 50 years ago to the present day, Sitka stands as a testament to the dedication of countless individuals—founding collaborators, board members, volunteers, philanthropists, staff, artists, ecologists, educators and lifelong learners—who have cared about this place and worked to further its mission and reach. As new cedar mingles with Sitka spruce forest, I extend deep gratitude to everyone who has shaped Sitka's journey and to new friends and next-generation stewards yet to come.