Regular followers of our blog will notice Washington Filmworks (WF) has paid several visits to Walla Walla, thanks to a series of community initiatives designed to foster a thriving creative economy in the region. The recently established Walla Walla Film Office was created to be more responsive to film and television production by assisting with locations, permitting, and other production resources. The Film Office is the brainchild of Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce President/CEO David Woolson, but Woolson has an even larger vision for the region that encompasses everything from low-cost business education for local business owners, to maximizing the region’s digital infrastructure for future broadband-powered economic expansion.
These Walla Walla initiatives parallel several of WF’s areas of focus, namely the intersection of storytelling and technology, and our ongoing exploration of the ways the film industry is a central player in Washington’s larger creative economy. In this spirit, WF Executive Director Amy Lillard travelled to Walla Walla to moderate a discussion on the Northwest Creative Economy, which focused on the growing role that the film, television, and new media industries contribute to the regional economy. This panel was a key part of the 2014 Walla Walla Business Summit.
Lillard’s visit included meetings with a number of elected officials, as well as stops with organizations and education initiatives that are actively fostering a creative shift in the area. For example, at Walla Walla University Canady Technology Center, Lillard spoke to students about WF and Washington’s film industry. She was also treated to a tour of CrewSpace, a unique community media lab at the Walla Walla Public Library. CrewSpace is spearheaded in part by Production Designer and Emmy-willing writer Jeffrey Townsend, and is funded by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. The initiative provides community access to technology that makes media creation accessible, at all levels of expertise.
Not surprisingly, the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) recently honored the Walla Walla Valley for their community efforts. ICF is a New York City think tank studying the economic and social development of the 21st Century community. This year the organization named Walla Walla one of 21 communities worldwide that are positioned to prosper in the broadband economy. Communities are challenged to create prosperity, stability and cultural meaning in a world where jobs, investment and knowledge increasingly depend on communication advancements. Walla Walla was a semi-finalist in 2014, among an impressive international pool including cities like Toronto, Taipei and Rio de Janeiro.
WF is invested in being a part of the conversation in Walla Walla because Woolsen and other regional players are working hard to explore the economic intersections of Washington’s creative sector and technology. The region has built a thriving viticulture business and on its heels, a world-class culinary scene and progressive small farm culture have evolved. The city is home to premiere liberal arts education at Whitman, but also world-class professional, technical and continuing education thru Walla Walla Community College, which was named top community college in the nation in 2013 by the Aspen Institute. And businesses like the Walla Walla Foundry have earned an international reputation. A go to for renowned artists like Maya Lin, Dale Chihuly and Jeff Koons to produce work, the Walla Walla Foundry is the largest contemporary art foundry in the nation, specializing in traditional casting along with digital 3-D technologies. It employs more than 100 artisans and workers.
Inspired by these and other strides, Woolson’s capacity for fostering the next relationships runs in hyper drive. “The city has a lot of young burgeoning talent, how are they to be retained? Gaming has strong connections here. How can all this tie into the creative economy? What is our current technology infrastructure and how can it be best used?” he asks. A lot of questions from Woolson, but they are all watered from the same spring – proof of concept. “I want Walla Walla to be a poster child. One that shows you can have commerce and a wonderful lifestyle because of technology. Being in the middle of nowhere ain’t what it used to be!”
Over the coming weeks WF will shine a spotlight on several exciting initiatives in the region that highlight the roles film, television and new media production have in the future economy of Walla Walla and greater Washington. Stay tuned.
Special thanks to Casi Smith, Director of Special Events at the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce, for the photos.