Emily Matthiessen/for Olympic Peninsula News Group
Renne Emiko Brock is the Sequim-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Citizen of the Year.

Emily Matthiessen/for Olympic Peninsula News Group Renne Emiko Brock is the Sequim-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Citizen of the Year.

Brock builds bridges through art, education and media

Sequim chamber’s Citizen of Year known for founding art walk

SEQUIM — Sometimes an individual can embody an aura of action that spreads ripples through a community.

As friends and colleagues, business owners, artists and patrons speak about Renee Emiko Brock — the Sequim-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year — it becomes clear that “the colorful lady” exerts broad impact on the community.

“Everyone can contribute in their own unique ways, and that should be valued and appreciated,” she said.

Brock said her missions include elevating color consciousness in those who come in contact with her, connecting like-minded people and nurturing community ties between nonprofits, business owners, artists, students and others passionate about growing and enriching their community.

In Sequim, she is known for founding the First Friday Art Walk in 2006 and the Fiber Arts Festival 19 years ago.

Laura MacMurchie, who has known Brock for more than two decades, nominated her for Citizen of the Year, an honor focused on volunteer activity.

“Renne had ideas about building an arts economy in Sequim,” MacMurchie said. “I saw that she just stayed inspired and motivated to keep improving the art scene in Sequim.

“She didn’t do it on her own, but she had the initiative, the ideas, experience and methodology of asking people to participate, encouraging makers and artists of all types and staying connected.

”I appreciate Renne for her soft voice and impeccable manners, and how she cares for Sequim’s culture.”

Theresa Rubens of Forage Gifts and Treasures in downtown Sequim said the Art Walk “is now a platform where art and business come together. People understand that art is many different things which are showcased throughout Sequim and enjoyed by everyone.”

She said Brock’s development and evolution of the First Friday Art Walk has become an anchor in the community.

Laura Segil of La Petite Maison Blanche called Brock “the connection lady.”

Anne Milligan of Anne Milligan’s Art Studio and Gallery, who showcases the work of other artists at her gallery, said Brock’s “generosity is amazing. I can’t say enough good about Renne.”

Milligan said she doesn’t know what she’d do without Art Walk: “Everyone knows about it. Renne does an incredible job of promoting it. It’s the best publicity I have.”

Real impact, virtual world

Kyra Humphrey brings up another aspect of Brock’s public persona: her online presence.

“It’s a huge part of why she got the award,” Humphrey said. “I love that she has her virtual world and her real world, and her work with the young people at (Peninsula College) intersecting with Sequim.”

Humphrey said people who are disabled lose that barrier in the online world.

“The virtual world is a valuable aspect of the real world,” she said. “They intersect; they’re not enemies.”

Brock’s online activities, which include Brain Energy Support Team, Second Life and Virtual Worlds Education Consortium, feed into the work she does offline, she said, as the flow of ideas between thinkers around the world influences their actions in their communities.

She said she’s passionate about the positive aspects of online worlds.

“It’s an equal playing field for everyone,” Brock said. “We get to know each other from the inside out. The shy have a voice; the soft-spoken can be heard. You can test fantastic ideas and get feedback from the rest of the world.

“What’s important is that you are your best self in both those places.”

Peninsula College

Brock’s job as instructor and program coordinator for the multimedia department at Peninsula College focuses on guiding students along their paths.

“The Hero’s Journey” is one of the metaphors she employs as she and her classes explore the places where practicality and imagination meet. Both young people struggling to see where they will fit in a world that has a high cost of living and older students returning to school, sometimes as potential phoenixes looking for a new and better way to live, have been touched by her compassion.

“I’m happy at the college,” Brock said, describing students from ages 15-90 working together. The multigenerational sharing of knowledge, she said, “is vital for survival.”

But the work she is paid for is just one facet of a life of service, modeled by parents and grandparents who also did what they could to further their communities.

“I believe in empowering people and giving them a place to shine,” she said. “Something in me has always strove to showcase and share what’s possible and what other people do.”

Peninsula College multimedia student Megan Coelho describes Brock as a walking ray of sunshine.

“I think Professor Brock is one of those rare people who really do bring sunshine and play into everything they touch,” Coelho said.

Nurturing community

Brock describes Sequim as a place where residents want to do something good for themselves and their communities.

“We all win when we work very hard and build systems that support everyone,” she said — not through competition, but through nurturing and supporting each other.

Rubens agreed.

“I truly believe that Sequim has an exceptional small business community,” Rubens said. “We all pull together to make each other successful. We refer each other to each other so the consumer can have a good experience and we hope we are mentoring good customer service. This keeps the dollars here and we are then able to support and donate to the community as a whole and celebrate that.”

A key to that, Brock said, is the chamber of commerce, which is “supportive of small businesses and understands the value of the arts.

“A lot of social good happens here,” Brock said.

The Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, Brock said, is often the first place people visit when they come to town.

“It inspires people to have an instant connection,” she said. At local businesses, organizations, restaurants and coffee shops, she said, “inclusion isn’t an afterthought; it’s a forethought in everything we do.”

Beth Pratt, executive director of the Sequim-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce, was not involved in the vote for Citizen of the Year, and award decided by past winners. Brock, she said, is seen as someone with a broad and long-term impact on the community.

“It’s a focus across the board that hits our business community, our student artists, and creates bridges between those two things,” Pratt said.

Between the fiber arts festival and the art walk, Pratt said, “it’s been year after year, month after month of dedicated work.”

So where does Brock get her energy from?

“Second breakfast — I have to have it,” Brock said with a smile, but later explains that the work itself gives her energy. “I’m more energized when others are.

“I like to see how building supports and connections supports how we can work collaboratively ... Be vocal about what you’re passionate about. It does influence and make things better for others.”

Learn more about Brock’s own art, book, many projects and more links at hueareyou.com.

________

Emily Matthiessen is a freelance writer and photographer.

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