Theonie Gilmore: A work of art

She’s the driving force behind Wilsonville’s growing art scene

One of four murals painted by Hector Hernandez depicting the history and life of Wilsonville that hang in the Visitor’s Information Center.

Credit: L.E. Baskow
One of four murals painted by Hector Hernandez depicting the history and life of Wilsonville that hang in the Visitor’s Information Center.

Some people just live. Theonie Gilmore lives with purpose.

A real go-getter at age 75, she is the woman behind the Wilsonville Arts and Culture Council (she founded it) and is executive director (volunteer CEO) of the Wilsonville Festival of Arts that occurs Saturday and Sunday, June 1-2, at the Wilsonville Town Center Park and Visitor Center, 20600 S.W. Park Place in Wilsonville.

A love of the arts is what drives Gilmore, who came to Wilsonville in 1973 with her husband, William, and their three daughters. William taught in the math department at Portland State University and built his family a home on more than five acres that now houses goats and chickens. He died of leukemia in 1983.

Gilmore taught for 25 years in the David Douglas School District in Portland. She retired in 1985, but still worked as a substitute. After her retirement, she suffered temporary short-term memory loss as the result of a serious car accident. Later, she became certified in arts administration.

This led to her co-founding three arts organizations: Center for Endangered Arts-MUSIC (CEA-MUSIC), Clackamas County Arts Action Alliance and the Wilsonville Arts and Culture Council. She also was a board member of the Oregon Multicultural Education Association.

The major work that CEA: MUSIC (Movement-Universality-Sounds-Instruments-Culture) accomplished was to take a video documentary crew to Pakistan in 1983, shooting in Islamabad and refugee camps, to focus on an uprooted nation. It was shown on public TV in 1985.

The same organization set up concerts in the Portland metro area and brought in performing arts ensembles from the country of Tuva (near Mongolia and Russia).

Gilmore’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2008, she was awarded “Wilsonville Citizen of the Year” by the Rotary Club of Wilsonville.

What’s behind all these accomplishments is a woman who grew up in a musical family in St. Louis, Mo., of Greek heritage. The family would play music and sing around the piano on weekends. “This was before television,” she comments. “I knew from an early age that I would be a music educator.”

Having a double major in voice and viola also helps.

“Most people become teachers because they have a deep inside need to help others become more about their passion. Arts are my passion. I believe it enriches lives,” Gilmore says. She has put equal parts passion and hard work into the Wilsonville Festival of Arts. She works with a team to gather business sponsors, apply for grants, and arrange for 55 visual artists and booths, two days of performances, auctions, and all the rest. When the weather is good the festival attracts 5,000 visitors. It takes $25,000 and the teamwork of volunteers to make it happen.

Gilmore never stops thinking up ideas to better her community. Her latest vision is a concept for an arts and wellness center that would include (on the arts side) room for music and drama, an art gallery and a 500-seat auditorium and stage. The wellness component includes a large indoor swimming pool, something Wilsonville doesn’t have.

With a new Wilsonville Parks and Recreation director on board in early June, Gilmore has hoped this proposed center might become a reality.

“We are gearing up to present our vision to him,” she says. “We are also working on getting a grant for an arts consultant to begin a feasibility study for the Performing Arts Center. She already has the person in mind, George Thorn of Portland, who is a national arts consultant. I am so excited.”

What drives her? “My basic essence is arts. I want the city of Wilsonville to be nurtured in the arts. It enriches one’s outlook and being. People involved with the arts do better academically. They have an open outlook, a more flexible perspective. Arts develop the creative side of our lives. It’s important for pre-school kids to be exposed to music, dance, theater and literature. It starts with that first crayon.”

It’s why she works with others to create artistic projects.

“I’m committed and passionate about this and I seek volunteers who share my passion,” she says. “It’s not about having your name on a list of board of directors. It’s about people taking action.”

Gilmore says Wilsonville’s demographics reflect an educated community. Several large tech companies, including Xerox and Mentor Graphics, are located there. Oregon Institute of Technology recently opened a new campus in Wilsonville.

And how do goats fit into all of it? “The idea was to learn how to make feta cheese and I took a class but I’ve yet to do it,” said Gilmore. No wonder, with all her activities.


Wilsonville Festival of Arts, Saturday and Sunday, June 1-2, Wilsonville Town Center Park, 20600 S.W. Park Place, Wilsonville.

Free admission. Features trolley bus and bike tours of public art and Beauty and the Bridge, art activities for preschoolers, Youth Music Project’s sampling of electronic music instruments, demonstrations by Art Tech High School, Student Art Pavilion showcasing visual art from the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, silent auction on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 55 professional visual artist booths, stage shows, book author presentation, storytelling, food booths. Other stage events include tai chi, music from different venues, choruses and Zumba dance with audience participation.



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