Fall City artist reflects on 20 years of building town’s art community

It was back at the turn of the century, when Barbara Center was approached by her daughter’s piano teacher, who asked if she’d join a new group looking to promote the arts in Fall City.

Beginning with just five women, the group held onto a strong belief that artistic curriculum belonged in local schools and that community members shouldn’t have to leave the Valley to be exposed to a variety of art forms.

Now, more than 20 years later, Center — the last remaining original member — retired from her role as president earlier this month, turning the group over to a new generation and leaving behind a legacy of new art in Fall City.

For the last two decades, the group and Center have been involved in a series of projects supporting arts in and around Fall City, including: Shakespeare in the Park, community dances, murals and art walks in town, and introducing new music and art classes in Fall City schools.

“In a rural community, people are busy. If they aren’t farming, they’re dealing with kids and sports or they’re dealing with kids in school, so art isn’t really first on their list,” Center said. “But I always felt it should be offered, including the stuff you can’t get here because you don’t want to go to Seattle.”

Center, a longtime artist and dancer who holds a painting degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, has been active in the group almost the entire time since its inception in 2001, with the only exception being a three-year break that ended about eight years ago, she said.

In that time, the group’s community dances have raised thousands of dollars for food banks, shelters and other nonprofits, and performances of Shakespeare in the Park have grown from a regular crowd of 40 people to a crowd of 120. New murals, including the one in Fall City Art Park, and sculptures have also been placed around Fall City.

Still despite those achievements, Center said perhaps her biggest accomplishment is keeping the group alive.

“I’ve kept it alive until someone else can hold on to it,” she said. “I’ve been a one woman show for grant writing, volunteers, holding meetings with hardly anybody, but I’ve managed to keep it alive.”

Center’s three-year hiatus with the group came to an end when it was on the verge of being disbanded, due to a lack of volunteers. Determined to keep the group alive, Center returned, telling herself she was only going to serve two years until turning the group over.

Those two years, however, quickly turned into eight as Center continued to lead and was unable to find someone else to take over. She even led Fall City arts through the pandemic and continued to provide socially distanced Shakespeare in the Park, masked dances, live music and art classes over Zoom. Center said what kept her going was the optimism that someone was out there who was continuing the group for the community.

“Being one of the initial people in 2001 that started it, with mission statement of bringing art of all forms here to the community, I just kept holding on that somebody else would keep doing it,” she said.

This June, she finally found that person: Krimsey Lilleth, an artist and chef, who recently moved to Fall City and formerly owned a vegan Cajun restaurant in North Hollywood.

“She was just full of ideas and ready to tackle it,” Center said of Lilleth. “She’s very exciting. It’s gonna be great for Fall City to have her.”

Although she’s turning over the group she helped found, Center insists there’s still more projects she’d like to work on.

“I’m not done. I’ve been doing art since I was little,” she said. “I’ll never be done.”