Duwamish Raven Canoe Repainted © 2012, photo by Steve Shay

Duwamish Raven Canoe Repainted © 2012, photo by Steve Shay

This month, we announce the awards for the Arts and Heritage Sustained Support Programs which will provide a predictable level of funding for recipient organizations’ operating budgets over the next two years. We hear from organizations in the field that unrestricted operating support is among the most useful funding they receive, and also sometimes the hardest to secure.

While arts and heritage sustained support have long been our largest funding programs, this is the first year that 4Culture has established a similar program for preservation.

It’s timely to reflect on the evolution of this important program:

The Sustained Support Program for arts organizations was established in 1993, when King County Arts Commission staff proposed folding eighteen separate funding programs into one.  Yes, you read that correctly. Back in the day, the Arts Commission had funding programs for visual arts, literary arts (called “Written Arts”), theatre, music, dance, folk arts, ethnic arts, touring arts grants, tourism grants, publication awards and I don’t even know what the other eight were or could be.  Each program had a fixed allocation. For example, Ethnic Arts had a budget or $20,750 in 1991; Publication awards were $15,000. Budgets were set before the organizations submitted applications and there was often little relation between funds available and the demand for each program.

Beginning in 1993, the Arts Commission abandoned the pie approach to funding and said “let’s provide unrestricted operating support to organizations of all disciplines,” which we’ve found to be a much wiser and significantly more efficient approach.  The Arts Commission retained a program for individual artists, but once again, artists applied in competition with each other across disciplines.

In 2001, a sustained support program for heritage organizations was created with a $100,000 general fund allocation from the county council.  When the County’s general fund could no longer afford the heritage program, the revenue source switched to lodging taxes.

Following recommendations from 4Culture’s cross-cultural committee in 2012, we are delighted to offer a sustained support program for the burgeoning community of preservation organizations throughout the county. Preservation Sustained Support applications are due October 9th and recipients will be announced in the fall.

In total, more than $2 million will be allocated for the three programs, with $1.6 million going to the arts program which receives the lion’s share of the applications. When we started the program in 1993, 49 arts organizations received sustained support. In 2013, 261 organizations will receive funding.  That’s a revealing indication of the growth of the arts field in the past twenty years. We likewise hope the program can assist in stimulating the heritage and preservation fields.

Every arts and heritage organization will attest to the value of predictable levels of operating support. Many foundations prefer to support projects, with beginnings, middles and ends.  But project funding, as important as it is, doesn’t help pay staff costs, electrical bills or rent, without which projects cannot be completed.

Operating support remains 4Culture’s most significant investment in arts, heritage and preservation.

Jim Kelly