Fort Worden Cistern Renamed the Dan Harpole Cistern

On June 14, 2007, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission renamed the Fort Worden cistern the “Dan Harpole Cistern” in honor of Harpole’s life and work in the arts.   

FortwordencisternNearly two-hundred feet in diameter and fourteen feet deep, the cistern was originally built as a water supply system when Fort Worden was a military base. Now, the empty cistern’s 45-second reverberation time is popular among recording artists. 

While the assistant director at Centrum, the multidisciplinary nonprofit arts organization that provides arts workshops, artist residencies, and public performances at Fort Worden State Park, Harpole was the key figure in helping musicians gain access into the cistern. He also tried to get the cistern designated as “Washington’s Official Instrument” in recognition of its unique acoustic properties.

Harpole helped musicians navigate government red tape and record safely.

Multi-instrumentalist and composer Stuart Dempster, a professor at the University of Washington who was one of the first musicians to record consistently in the cistern, said that it was thanks to the “tireless advocacy” of Harpole that musicians were able to record there.

“One of Dan’s greatest strengths was bringing people together,” said Centrum program manager Peter McCracken. “He was able to find common ground among widely divergent groups of people.”

“Harpole dedicated his career to educating the public and policymakers about the importance of the arts to community life,” said Centrum executive director Thatcher Bailey. “His personal and professional mission was to create opportunities for connecting people to the arts.” 

In addition to serving as Centrum’s assistant director, Harpole served on the Port Townsend City Council from 1994 to 1996. In 1995, then-Governor Gary Locke appointed Harpole to the Washington State Arts Commission; he was elected chairman in 1998.

Harpole also served on the Jefferson County Commission from 1997 to 2000. In 2000, Harpole moved to Boise, Idaho, to become executive director of the Idaho Commission on the Arts.

A week before his death from a rare form of cancer in December, 2006, Harpole was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman’s Medal in recognition of his service to the arts in the United States.

On August 8, at 7 p.m., Stuart Dempster will give a free concert in honor of Harpole at Centrum’s re-naming dedication of the Cistern. Dempster and multi-instrumentalist Brian Pertl will perform from inside the Dan Harpole Cistern. Speakers will pipe the music up to audience members seated on the lawn above.