The Anacortes Arts Foundation has had a long history with several changes of course along the way. Many of its projects have spun off into still existent organizations of their own.
The origins of the Anacortes Arts Foundation were in 1961. The organization began as the Anacortes Arts and Crafts Festival. The Festival quickly grew into one of the state's leading local arts organizations, serving thousands of people. A permanent art collection, gathered via purchase awards selected from juried shows, was hailed as one of the best small collections in the State of Washington. The collection was the beginning of the Festival’s Anacortes Art Gallery in 1969. The original Gallery was in the basement of the Anacortes Museum. Later the Gallery and the Festival office were located on Commercial Avenue.
The success of the Festival’s occasional performing arts events attested to community interest. Support of such events led to the formation of the Pop'N'Arts performing arts series in 1974, which, with the Anacortes School Districts' Cultural Education Program, received a Governor's 1975 Arts Award for innovative joint programming.
By 1980 the growing diversity of local arts programs and activities had resulted in the establishment of the Anacortes Arts and Crafts Foundation, as an outgrowth of the Festival, to oversee the expanding scope of art activities in Anacortes. The Pop ‘N’ Arts Series, the Cultural Education Program, the Anacortes Arts Gallery, and the Arts and Craft Festival were all committees under the Foundation auspices. (The very successful Anacortes Arts Festival, as it exists today, was a “spin-off” from this Foundation. The permanent art collection resides at the Arts Festival office.) The aim of the Foundation was to serve as a coordinating organization for all local non-profit arts groups. In addition, the Foundation disbursed the proceeds raised annually by the Anacortes Patrons of the Arts (APTOA) and served as a local arts clearing house.
In 1981 the Foundation, with the cooperation of Burlington Northern Railroad and the City of Anacortes, acquired the Great Northern Railroad Depot, built in 1911 and located at 611 “R” Avenue in Anacortes. In 1988 the name “Depot Arts Center” was adopted, which identified the Foundation’s location. The Depot Arts Center’s principal emphasis became the development and renovation of the Depot for use as a community cultural center and a central office for arts groups in the community. An Art Gallery featuring local artists was permanently located at the Center. Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble, Fidalgo Youth Symphony, Anacortes Farmers Market, and Schola Antiquae Vocis (Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony choir) all came under the Center’s legal “umbrella.” In the succeeding years numerous groups used the Center for their activities and needs. These included Celebration Lutheran Church, Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble, the Camera Club, the life drawing group, the tai kwan do classes, the annual Nutcracker Gift Show, the annual hedgehog event, and many private celebrations such as wedding parties. Various events were held, which included the yearly Garden Art Fair, writers’ workshops, poetry readings, and concerts.
Eventually, restoring and maintaining the Depot and promoting arts organizations became untenable. In January, 2012, custodianship of the building was returned to the City of Anacortes. The organization is now legally recognized as the Anacortes Arts Foundation.
Foundation Affiliates are Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble, Croatian Cultural Center, Fidalgo Culture, V. L. Productions and Pictures That Matter.