On the Job with Creative Manager Rita James

“There isn’t much about it that I don’t like. It is just the perfect job for me.”

Being the Creative Manager for one of the largest art festivals in the state of Washington is a FUN and creative job. For seventeen-years, Rita James, has been the Creative Manager for the Anacortes Arts Festival. Now in its fifty-sixth year, she has been involved with the festival for thirty years, over half of its life. And she still enjoys every minute of it.

Her job description encompasses all things creative. For most of the seventeen years, Rita has been in charge of the Fine Art Show. The Fine Art Show is one of the many things, which set the Anacortes Arts Festival apart from other festivals. The show has grown over the years and collectors come from all over to find the next piece to add to their art collection.

Rita’s day-to-day job is marketing for the festival. She designs all of the posters for festival events, sends out the press releases, and is involved in the development of new programs and creative brainstorming.

What excites her about her job? There is something different everyday. She gets to be creative, works with talented and creative people, and she loves that the festival is such a positive event for the community.

The job satisfies and encourages her creative side. She has many outlets in which she gets to let loose, such as, writing and graphic design. The job has also pushed her to be more creative in her personal life. Over the years, she has taken up photography, sculpting, and painting.

At work she uses the Adobe Creative Suite. When she first started with the festival all of the graphic design work was outsourced. It soon became apparent that the festival needed to bring it in-house so Rita took some lessons but most of what she has learned over the years as been self-taught. She is most proficient in Photoshop, which is her primary tool for design.

“You use what you know how to use,” Rita said.

What inspires Rita? Over the years her taste in art has changed, most of the influence coming from the Fine Art Show.

“What inspires me now is something I haven’t seen before,” Rita said.

Something new, something she hasn’t seen before, a new artist, a new technique, these are inspirations for someone who has witnessed a lot of art in the last thirty years. What excites her is young artists just starting out and beginning their craft.

Rita grew up in Boise, Idaho surrounded by art. In High School she was the editor for the school newspaper and published some poems. She even considered being a journalist. But life often changes direction on us.

Her husband attended the University of Washington for medical school so they lived in the Seattle area and were inspired by the Pacific Northwest. Once he completed his Residency in Boise, they were ready to leave the cold Idaho winters and call someplace else home. Thirty years ago he interviewed for a position in Anacortes and they fell in love with community.

“We just decided we wanted to live here,” Rita said.

Rita immersed herself in the arts. She wrote a column for the Anacortes American called, Stories I Like to Tell. The articles poked fun at life. Then she started volunteering at the Anacortes Arts Festival; soon she joined their board and then was offered a permanent position.

Working closely with artists over the years, Rita has developed some strong relationships. She feels that you appreciate the art more once you get to know an artist; it helps you understand what their art is about.

“It is way more fun to collect art when you actually have a relationship with the artist,” Rita said. “That’s the art I want to have in my house.”

Her advice for artists…

“My best advice would be to have good photos of your work. If not photographed well, it might not be seen to its best potential.”

A common thread she has seen over the years with successful artists is how they interact and build a relationship with their collector base. They talk to people and they are inspired when talking about their art. Collectors who have a relationship with the artist will have more of an emotional investment with the art. With today’s technology, a lot of artists sell online, but relationship is still a key factor when selling art.

“Put yourself out there. Talk about your art and why you love it.”

“Every year we change. It seems to keep growing and just getting better,” Rita said about the festival.

When asked about the success of the festival she replied that the festival brings a community together, people come to have fun. The festival also attracts a lot of visitors who enjoy the festival and and finds the makeup of the Anacortes community appealing. With booth vendors, artists, three stages of music, and the Fine Art Show, the Anacortes Arts Festival is one of the top festivals in the state of Washington.

Rita credits a lot of the success of the festival to the Board of Directors, the Director of the festival, and the fabulous staff that keeps in going.

The Anacortes Arts Festival is more than just a once-a-year event. It is a 501c3 non-profit and it gives back to the community in the form of grants, funding for art programs, public art and more. This year they expect to give back over $65,000 to the community in one form or another. They also donate a piece from the Fine Art Show for the public art program. And they have one of the largest art collections around with pieces going back to 1960.

Each year the festival organizes two running events and the proceeds are designated for the purchase of public art. And four years ago they started Spring Fest in April. At first Spring Fest was a way to attract visitors to Anacortes during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, but in Anacortes Arts Festival fashion it grew and evolved into something more.

“The festival has grown into such a part of the identity of Anacortes.”

The Spring Fest Fine Art show now includes thirty-three artists with over one hundred pieces of art. On April 15th they will have the ARTY PARTY, a fundraiser for the Cultural Arts Program for the Anacortes School District. The tickets are $100 which includes dueling pianos, a paint duel between Jennifer Bowman and Terry MacDonald with the winner’s piece as the prize for the Golden Ticket, food trucks, and introducing Artists for Education, artists who donated small paintings that will sell for $25 and $50 dollars.

On April 22nd and 23rd, forty artists, food trucks, kid activities and more will create a mini-version of the August Anacortes Arts Festival. All of this happens at the Anacortes Depot Art Center located at 611 R Ave.

“Creativity and art effects all of us.” Rita said in closing. “The more we have in our work places, the happier we are with our work.”

Anacortes is lucky to have a large and diverse artists community. It enriches the community and the festival plays a large role in the arts. It is largely due to the arts festival that the public art collection in Anacortes has grown over the year. They are located in a variety of places, such as, the hospital, sculptures on permanent display, school district buildings, the library, Tommy Thompson trail, and more.

Rita is correct, the job is perfect for her and she is perfect for the job.

"Creativity is contagious, Pass it on." —Albert Einstein

Created By
Karla Locke
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