Nonprofit aims to support arts in Lewis County schools, community and beyond

Kick-off fundraiser for Washington Arts and Culture Association to be held at McFiler’s Chehalis Theater on Oct. 17


After the district’s levy failed in April, the Centralia School Board’s first workshops toyed with the idea of decreasing budgets for athletics and band, according to previous reporting by The Chronicle. 

The very same conversation occurs in school districts across the country, said Cameron McGee, executive director of the Washington Association of Culture and Arts, a Lewis and South Thurston County-based nonprofit that was founded last month. McGee is also a Centralia city councilor and has children who attend Centralia schools.

“Nationwide, when budgets get cut, the arts, historically, have gone first. … Sports will come with that as well, but usually sports are still second to the arts,” McGee said in an interview last week. “That decreases attendance, increases behavioral issues. There’s no emotional outlets for the people (involved in the arts) and overall, it hurts GPA.”

From this concern was born the new nonprofit. Up front, the goal is to raise enough funds to hire music and arts teachers for school districts in Lewis County. 

“We’re not replacing programs. We’re supplementing what arts programs have,” McGee said. “The goal is to increase access to the arts. … They are vitally important.”

For the 2024-25 school year, the group aims to hire three, full-time teachers in local schools. It’s possible those educators could travel between districts or schools throughout the course of a day for various classes. The Washington Association of Arts and Culture will also work to supplement the arts scene in Lewis County outside of schools, partnering with Hub City Comedy and local venues to bring in new acts and opportunities, McGee said.

“Arts increases overall education and and mental health, so it's very important. But also, outside of the education side of it, just our community, we're in really unique position,” McGee said. “We are directly between Seattle and Portland on I-5. So we are an easy stop, and with the venues that are open and operating now, and with the Fox (Theater) hopefully being done in the next year and a half or two years, we've got some great traction here.”

Down the road, McGee said, the goal is to build a model that can be scaled to schools throughout the region and hopefully, the state. Another dream, he said, is for the organization to host recording studio spaces, classrooms and practice areas that would be available for members.

Currently, the group is in the fundraising stage. A kick-off event on Oct. 17 at McFiler’s Chehalis Theater from 6 to 8 p.m. will offer a chance for people to learn about the association while experiencing live music. Tickets cost $50 and are on sale at

Next summer, the association hopes to host a three-day music and arts festival in downtown Centralia and at Centralia College, McGee said.

The nonprofit has a board of eight directors: Eddie McNally and Patrick McNally, who own the McFiler’s Chehalis Theater; James Knopfler and President Nalani Knopfler, both of Centralia; John Six, a project manager; Todd Chaput, of the Economic Alliance of Lewis County; Gabe Mouer, a musician from Centralia; and Ashton McKenzie, also musician from Centralia who works as a photographer and videographer for artists and various nonprofits.

For more information, visit or the Washington Association of Culture and Arts Facebook page, or email