In his 12 years volunteering with Manzanita’s Hoffman Center for the Arts, David Dillon has helped host plenty of events. He’s seen some big names, too. Names like Cheryl Strayed, Ursula Le Guin and Phillip Margolin. But there was one event that so moved Dillon, he found himself in tears. It was that moment when he knew that after all the questions, the worries, the doubt, they’d gotten it right.
I asked Dillon, the last remaining member of the center’s original board of directors and a past president, to talk to me about the Hoffman Center because — ta-dah — I am lucky enough to be reading there from my novel, “Wander” on Oct. 21. I’ll take the stage at 7 pm and I hope you’ll join us.
The opportunity at the Hoffman Center got me thinking. How does a little community like Manzanita manage not only to develop and sustain an art center, but an art center with a truly prestigious reputation?
The answer begins with a gift of generosity and a community with a huge can-do spirit.
In September 2004, the community learned that the late Manzanita artists Myrtle and Lloyd Hoffman had left their property and assets in a trust, directing that it be used to create an entity to support the arts, education and the library. The trustee pulled together seven prominent citizens to pursue that wish. It would be no simple task.
“In the beginning, we’ve got this house and some money,” says Dillon. “So the question was, what do people want to do? We had to find out what people wanted and then find a way to accommodate that.”
So in December 2004, they hosted two public meetings, both of which were packed.
“We said ‘OK,’” continues Dillon. “‘We have the opportunity for an art center in Manzanita. What is a Hoffman Center? How can we show what a Hoffman Center would be? What is the mission?’ I was the one who eventually sifted through the comments and put it all together. It was a 12-page document. It showed all the things people thought a community center should have.”
The only trouble was that while they had some money and the house, the house really wasn’t the appropriate space for hosting the events people thought the center should host.
“I thought, my god, we can’t do any of those things,” Dillon recalls.
Then, a former gift shop went vacant. And the Hoffman Center found its home.
“Once we started doing things in our place, people started to see what an art center in Manzanita could be.”
Since then, they’ve hosted all sorts of events. And they don’t just go with the tried and true, but tend to get pretty creative. A year ago, the center hosted “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago,” a documentary that follows six individuals on a nearly 500-mile hike to the Santiago de Compostela, reputed to be the burial place of St. James.
“We came up with the idea to show that movie and couple it with people who had walked the Camino,” Dillon says. “It’s like a restaurant doing fusing. In addition to the Portland-based director, at least five locals who had walked the Camino attended. One of them was an artist. She set up an exhibit of her paintings from the experience. The film was very well received and prompted lots of discussion afterwards — not just about the documentary, but also the realities of making the trek. It was a great community event.”
They also opened the Clay Studio, offering classes in ceramic technique and an open gallery, and razed the old Hoffman house, turning the property into gardens where they host outdoor concerts and welcome the public to come sit and enjoy nature.
But of all the big names and magic moments, there is one event that stands out above all others for Dillon.
“It was called Beatles on Laneda and the idea was that musicians would come in and perform Beatles’ songs. Toward the end, the last band was up there and they started to play “Hey Jude” and everyone started singing along. The tears were just streaming down my face. This was what we wanted the Hoffman Center to be. Everyone was just singing along together with this song. It was overwhelming to me. It was the key moment. I said, this is what it is supposed to be.”
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.