Summer camps at MOHAI © 2015, photo by Kathleen Knies, courtesy of MOHAI.

Summer camps at MOHAI © 2015, photo by Kathleen Knies, courtesy of MOHAI.

As fall begins, we focus on the coming November elections which will include contests for federal offices, as well as several important local ballot initiatives.

Since 1965, when the National Endowment for the Arts was authorized by the United States Congress, government has been a partner in funding the arts nationally and locally. The King County Arts Commission—the first incarnation of what is now 4Culture—was established in 1967. In the years following, government support was extended to libraries, history museums, historic preservation, and public broadcasting in recognition that those connections to each other and to place create public benefits that help make a cohesive and civil society.

Times have changed, along with attitudes about government and taxes. It is more difficult today to define something as inexact as “the common good.” I live in Seattle and love the idea of expanding transit options. Would I feel the same if I lived in Enumclaw? Today we ask voters to decide what they are willing to support with tax revenues. In some cases, voters are asked to renew a tax for a particular purpose, such as the parks levy from two years ago. In other cases, new taxes are proposed to accomplish regional goals, such as the expansion of Sound Transit’s Light Rail system, which will be on the ballot this November.

In summer 2015, Cultural Access Washington (CAWA), passed the state legislature. The bill allows any county in the state to offer a ballot measure to increase access to science and cultural non-profit organizations by increasing sales tax. We began to ask: how would arts and culture fare if put to the voters? Now that the bill will—in all likelihood—appear on the King County ballot in 2017, we are partnering with cultural organizations and advocates from across our region to dig deeper.

Throughout the summer we convened study groups to review CAWA legislation and what it could look like in practice, and we heard and asked a myriad of critical questions: how do we define “access”? How do we embed equity into the structure of this bill? How do we create educational opportunities that truly make a difference to our citizens?

While we wrestle with complex issues in this year’s election, we invite you to join us in also looking ahead to 2017 and CAWA. These questions are just the first in a conversation we will continue over the next year as we craft the best possible funding program for arts, science, and culture in King County. Stay tuned.

Jim Kelly