A Brief History of IMA

IMA was born more than a decade ago, functioning for years with no facility of its own, using the lobby of the San Juan Community Theatre as a venue for occasional exhibits and displays.

Notwithstanding this serious limitation, the fledgling museum managed to offer shows of outstanding quality. The museum had one powerful asset: it was created and operated by enthusiastic, knowledgeable islanders, including professional artists and many who had strong connections to the visual art community in the Northwest and beyond.

After a time, the group was able to rent a modest facility in the town of Friday Harbor. This was San Juan Islands Museum of Art’s first home where more ambitious exhibits could be offered, although the size and configuration of the building placed limitations on the scope of exhibitions and the services it could provide. After a few years, even that space was no longer available to the museum, demanding another move to a still smaller space, followed by two additional moves, always to vacant retail facilities in the Friday Harbor business district.

Nevertheless, throughout this period of turmoil, IMA was able to create and host an extensive string of exhibitions and presentations, covering a broad spectrum of visual arts. Despite the most modest resources and by virtue of the outstanding skills and knowledge of the leadership and volunteers, these exhibits have consistently been highly professional in quality. They have received enthusiastic acceptance and support by the resident community and by visitors from all over the world.

One of its most important contributions to the community has been IMA’s on-going financial support for art education in the San Juan Island School District. Arts education is always vulnerable when overall funding for education is curtailed, and through the recent period of severe local educational funding cuts, there would not have been any arts program in the elementary school at all if IMA had not provided crucial support and creative leadership.

Despite these important contributions to the community, the situation of limited funds, constant moves from one marginal space to another, and a lack of any firm identity made IMA a continuing “virtual” museum. Yet IMA sought to become an institution that is part of the vital cultural fabric of the San Juan Islands – an area gaining national recognition as a regional art center.