Juan de Fuca Festival chief to step down

Kayla Oakes

Every organization — every person, for that matter — can look anew at what they want to do and be from here on out, Kayla Oakes believes.

As executive director of the Juan de Fuca Foundation for the Arts, she’s done a lot of re-evaluating over the past year. By this spring, Oakes herself decided to move in a different direction and resign from her position as of June 15.

Oakes is in the midst of orchestrating the first hybrid Juan de Fuca Festival, to take place at and around the Vern Burton Community Center, 308 E. Fourth St., over Memorial Day weekend. This 27th annual festival will offer a street fair, workshops, six in-person concerts and 20 virtual performances, May 28-31.

At the same time, Oakes is booking Port Angeles’ Concerts on the Pier series for eight Wednesday evenings in July and August, working with sponsors, organizing volunteers and planning JFFA’s community art projects. She has one fellow part-time staffer: administrative manager Kari Chance.

“I love my job,” said Oakes, who had served on the JFFA board for some seven years before stepping into the executive director post in January 2019. But at this point in her life, the position’s time demands are too high. Oakes, who turns 46 this week, has two teenage children, and wants to be around for them and the rest of her family.

The executive director job description, posted at JFFA.org, says the 30-hours-per-week position has a starting salary in the $40,000 range, while JFFA board president Melody Charno said both are negotiable.

The job could become officially full-time, Charno said, adding the pay would increase if that happens.

Applications are available on the website. They must be submitted by 11:30 p.m. May 25.

The best part of the job for Oakes is connecting people with music, dance, painting, comedy — all of the arts.

“I’ve had a couple of experiences where I felt this explosion of pride,” seeing people engage with performers, she said.

Guitarist Chase Padgett in February 2020; the LED dance ensemble in 2016 — they enchanted their audiences, Oakes recalled. She’s watched, with wonder, as artists like these transported people to a whole new and beautiful place.

The work is also about building community with sponsors, advertisers and patrons — “I love that community piece,” Oakes said.

JFFA board member Peter Metz noted that Oakes and her predecessor, Dan Maguire, have extended the foundation’s reach to other local nonprofit organizations. The Market Art projects have linked JFFA with the Port Angeles Farmers Market, distributing art kits at the Saturday market, for example, and installing public art projects downtown.

Charno added that Oakes took the initiative on such efforts — while seeking grants to fund them.

“She took a grant-writing certification course even before we hired her,” Charno said. “She has generated significant grant funding.”

Karen Hanan, founder of the Juan de Fuca Festival, is now the executive director of ArtsWA, the state Arts Commission. She conceived the festival in 1992, then made it reality in May 1994 and stayed on as executive director until 2000, when Anna Manildi was appointed her successor.

Hanan recalled her vision for the first event: “a multicultural, multidisciplinary festival that would invite in and embrace the whole community.”

The executive director needs a specific mix of skills, she added. This person must be able to “think with vision, and program effectively,” creating experiences where everybody feels welcome.

“It’s really important for the community,” Hanan said, “that the Juan de Fuca Festival remains in good hands.”

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