The capable, strong women of Orcas Center | Women in Business profile

It is thanks to mutual admiration and respect that the staff of Orcas Center is a harmonious team.

“We’re all professional and knowledgable in our areas of expertise and that allows us to work as a unit,” said Development Director Nicole Matisse. “What we are doing here really matters. Art is part of a thriving community.”

Matisse is in her second stint at the non-profit. She worked alongside previous Executive Director Kara O’Toole from 2011-2015 and returned in 2019 at the invitation of current ED Dimitri Stankevich. Over the last few years, she has focused on securing year-round grant opportunities and fielding donations from the community.

Front of House Manager Annemieka Neenan says the teamwork and collaboration present at Orcas Center “makes you want to come to work.”

Neenan moved to Orcas in 2001, after coming to visit a friend she’d met online (who later became her husband Evan Skye). Since then she has been volunteering and working in a variety of roles at the Imagine Music and Arts Festival, Imagine Convergence, the Orcas Island Film Fest and more. Her passion for caregiving, hospice and grief counseling led her to build relationships with many islanders. She calls her role at the center a dream job that utilizes all of her skill sets.

Facilities Superintendent Suzanne Cooke has worked in a variety of customer service positions, and says in her first year at the center, “everyone has been so helpful and kind and positive.”

“I finally have a balance between work and life,” she said. “I was raising kids and trying to do it all. Now my kids are grown and my life is more mellow and more mine. Being part of Orcas Center is the happy medium.”

Communications Director Bethany Marie has been with the nonprofit since 2018. She has worked in professional puppetry in the U.S. and abroad, small business development and website design, real estate and property management and is a 10-time award-winning author and presenter.

The women say they navigate challenges by talking to one another and celebrating their diverse range of skills.

“We have differences of opinion but not conflict,” Neenan said. “Every Wednesday we have a staff meeting, which is vital.”

Matisse, who has a bachelor of arts in Sociology from the University of Washington and an MBA from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, is grateful for the culture of safety and respect at the organization.

“There is no ageism. Our maturity helps us coexist,” she said. “There was sexism — from men and women — when I was working in Los Angeles and Seattle. Historically that has always been an issue. But at Orcas Center, I’ve felt safe and appreciated.”

Matisse notes that the center is also committed to gender equality as an organization and in its programming.

“At least half of the staff and board of directors are female. That can tip the scales in our favor when applying for grants because that is not often the case at non-profits,” she said. “We support female playwrights and directors and the Dance Collective is entirely women-run. We are an incubator for women-driven directives.”

An added benefit of working at OC is having access to live shows and helping to coordinate dance, theatre, arts and movement classes for all ages as well as vaccine clinics, art openings and rentals to island organizations. For Matisse, who has two daughters, it has allowed her to see performances she may otherwise have missed.

“It feels so much more like a community center now than a decade ago,” Neenan said.

Added Marie: “Our work is other people’s playgrounds.”

Get involved

To become a volunteer at Orcas Center or suggest programming ideas, email

Orcas Center’s Fall Fundraiser is underway and an anonymous island donor has gifted $60,000 if the community can match it by the end of November. As a non-profit arts organization, the center depends on the generosity of its donors and business sponsors to help reach its fundraising goals and sustain them year after year.

“If you enjoy the kinds of shows you see at Orcas Center, and at special events like our free Summer Concert Series on Eastsound’s Village Green, please consider making a year-end gift to Orcas Center — and helping them secure that $60,000 match,” Matisse said.

Gifts can be made online at, by mailing or dropping off a check at Orcas Center or through your donor-advised fund. Contact Matisse at for additional information.