Mercer Island Arts Council event combines art, sports, nature

New Mercer Island Arts Council event.

Nature, art, sport and storytelling can be all intertwined. Fly fishing is just one example.

A new event held by the Mercer Island Arts Council (AC) and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department (P&R), Art on the Water takes place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on March 27 at the Mercer Island Community and Events Center. The multi-faceted evening celebrates nature and sustainability.

Actor Tom Skerritt, who in 1992 starred in the film adaptation of “A River Runs Through It” — the Norman Maclean novel about love, family and fly fishing — will be the emcee.

For ages 21 and up, the $25 price admits ticket holders to live readings, speakers, author book signings, and exhibits of lithographs and nature photography. There will also be nature photography by Ray Pfortner and David Fishman on display at the Mercer Island Gallery, beer served up by Snoqualmie Falls Brewery, food by Caruccio’s, a silent auction with lithographs signed by artist Russell Charham, and a raffle with prizes including a guided fly fishing trip.

Damian Schwiethale is a member of the AC who has a background as a ballet dancer and choreographer with the Huston Ballet. The event was his idea, part of an effort to engage the community in the arts in new ways while being economically sustainable.

He said he wanted to do something different and asked himself, “How do we expand, do multiple things, and drive sustainability?”

The goal is to bring more arts opportunities to Mercer Island and explore new programming methods. Perhaps this will not only draw in more Islanders, but also people from off the Island, he said.

“I am very excited about the Art on the Water event, as it is an avenue to not only bring and promote great artists in our local community but also provide the Mercer Island Arts Council a vehicle to experiment on how to develop programs through more sustainable, market-driven approaches,” Schwiethale said in a press release. “We expect the event to generate net proceeds, which will pull through support for other arts programs and arts organizations serving Mercer Island.”

He said he hopes this new approach will bring more people together, as it does not draw on taxpayer dollars but at the same time brings professional level arts experiences to the community. He said he’s seen controversy and different points of view on how art should be presented in the past, and he’s hoping this may change the culture a bit.

“There’s so much potential on Mercer Island to do arts programming in an economically sustainable way. The Arts Council is a good vehicle for that,” he said.

Since the Island is literally surrounded by water and natural beauty, Schwiethale said it’s the perfect place for the themes of nature and sustainability in the arts. He also said it’s a prime area for the fly fishing community.

Live readings will be given by three Patagonia fly fishing ambassadors — Nathaniel Riverhorse Nakadate, Dylan Tomine and Steve Duda — whose writings demonstrate the literary tradition of the sport. Tomine and author John Dietsch will also sign books at the event.

Dietsch was the fly fishing production coordinator and a stunt man on the filming of “A River Runs Through It.” He is co-author of Shadowcasting: An Introduction to the Art of Flyfishing and he will also be highlighting his new book called “Graced by Waters: Personal Essays on Fly Fishing and the Transformational Power of Nature.” Book sales will be available courtesy of Island Books.

The program will begin with readings by writers from The Red Badge Project — a nonprofit founded by Skerritt and former Army Captain Evan Bailey that supports veterans. (

While the AC, a volunteer advisory board to the city council, does have a budget for events throughout the year, Sarah Bluvas, P&R community projects coordinator, said the budget was already set prior to this event being proposed by Schwiethale. The event instead is made possible through the support of community sponsors, in-kind donations, and ticket sales.

This could become a revenue building model to be passed on to other arts events in the community.

Bluvas said the AC acts as a catalyst to get this program started, but if it goes well it could become an annual event or possibly get picked up and continued by a different organization.

“The Arts Council is putting a lot of energy and enthusiasm into kicking off this first event. If it’s successful we’d love to see it continue,” she said.

She said she hopes they will have a good turnout, although space is limited to 200 tickets available.

“I think this is a really great opportunity to explore some programming the Arts Council is bringing to the Mercer Island community and bring more awareness to Arts Council itself,” she said.

She commended the event idea for bringing together nature, sustainability, but also sports and the arts. She also said she loved seeing all the collaboration as different organizations and local businesses have partnered with them on this program.

“This is a great opportunity to come out on a Friday night to the community center for an interesting look at sustainability and nature, and exploring it all through the arts,” she said.

Tickets and more information can be found by calling 206-275-7609 or by going online to