Interview With Thatcher Bailey

From the interview with Thatcher Bailey conducted by phone by Patience Rogge on January 26, 2012 from the Fort Worden History Center. Mr. Bailey worked for Centrum at several different times in different capacities. Here he describes how he came to the Port Townsend area and how he started with Centrum in its early days:

“My father, Phillip Bailey, bought a place in Port Townsend in 1946. He spent his first Christmas in the Northwest at Chevy Chase Inn and had gotten to know Mary Chase who was at that time the owner and manager, he became enamored of the place. As she got older and was looking for someone to take it over, he purchased the property from her. He never directly ran it as a resort, but hired managers for it. We spent our childhood growing up there in the summer as guests of the resort and in the winter, when it was closed we would go up and do work projects. In 1962, the idea was the whole family was going to move to Port Townsend. We sold our house in Seattle. I was enrolled to go to Chimacum Elementary, but at the very last minute my mother got cold feet and we went back to Seattle. They shut down the resort because buildings were falling apart and needed renovation. For the next period of time it served as a family home and summer home. There were a couple of cabins that were in better shape, oftentimes we rented those out to artists who would be performing at either Marrowstone or Fort Worden. We had the Youth Symphony folks staying there for a while. Marjorie Nelson was heading up one of the precursors to the local theatre scene, the Port Townsend Summer Theatre, designed by Victor Steinberg at Point Hudson. So, there was a connection to this incipient cultural community that was developing in Port Townsend that my father got attached to. He actually was one of the founding board members of Centrum. That got me, through nepotism, an unpaid internship in the summer of ’75 with Centrum for Joe Wheeler. That was near its founding. Centrum was a new organization and the Fort was hardly developed. Everyone had all the duties—from making sure there was toilet paper in the houses and dorms where people were staying to making sure speakers were in place for performances, to writing brochure copy. I was just kind of the runaround guy that first summer. Joe was kind enough to let me write some brochure copy. I think some of it still exists today as ways that the organization is described. I got deeply attached to the place. When I graduated from Amherst, Joe hired me and I worked there for three or four years. When I came back to work, I was given way more responsibility than any kid out of college should be given. I got to put together programs and ended up developing long-term relationships with a lot of Northwest artists. We did programs for Washington State youths that were most of the time led by Washington artists because we were funded by Washington State public dollars. It was really an exciting time in the Northwest for a certain generation of artists who were all working together and thinking about different ways of making art. They have incredibly fond memories of a highly unregulated time back at Fort Worden when we were probably lucky we didn’t get into more trouble than we did. The regulations were a lot more lax and there was a lot less fear of taking risks. It was an exciting time for everybody.

The great thing about Joe Wheeler was that he was incredibly empowering. He gave me an enormous amount of responsibility. I screwed some things up significantly. I lost my temper with someone who was of great importance and told him off. He stomped off and we never worked with him again. Joe just laughed about it. Joe was very much ‘just try this, try that, see what works,’ He was in the spirit of being a mentor. More importantly the spirit of the whole place at the time which was that creativity comes in many forms and you want to have an organization that has an ethic that inspires everybody who touches it. He let us come up with ideas, nine out of ten of which weren’t that good. But every once in a while, we’d come up with a kind of great idea and everyone would be pretty excited about it. It was very fun. Not that funding was always easy, but there was a greater sense of excitement around the state about what was happening there and less scrutiny about how this money might get spent or might not get spent. There was a bigger embrace of the thinking –if we’re going to support artists and making of art, let’s not pinch pennies in silly ways.”

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