Why Building for Culture Matters: A Message from Our Executive Director

Working on electrical systems aboard Tudgboat Arthur Foss © 2015, courtesy of Northwest Seaport
Working on electrical systems aboard Tudgboat Arthur Foss © 2015, courtesy of Northwest Seaport

On Thursday, July 16, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced a major investment in Cultural Facilities in partnership with 4Culture. King County will issue $20 million in bonds backed by Lodging Tax revenues to support capital projects throughout King County. The program is called Building for Culture.

The 1990s are remembered as a boom time for the construction of cultural infrastructure. During the 1990s, Pacific Northwest Ballet opened the Phelps Center; Village Theatre completed its new stage in Issaquah. Meydenbauer Theatre in Bellevue and Kirkland Performance Center brought a range of performances to eastside audiences. ACT moved from lower Queen Anne to downtown Seattle, with On the Boards taking ACT’s former space to create the Behnke Center for Contemporary Performance. Benaroya Hall opened with a huge free, community weekend in September of 1998, attended by more than 25,000 people. The list goes on, but you get the point. It is estimated that $750 million was invested in new facilities in the region in the 1990s.

We’ve all been reading articles about the population growth of Seattle and King County. Depending on the source, Seattle is somewhere in the top 5 cities in the country in population growth. King County added 200,000 residents between 2000 and 2010 according to the 2010 census, growth which has continued over the past five years. At the same time, the 2009 recession put a number of capital projects on hold as funders focused on maintaining basic operational support rather than building new facilities. Population growth will require the construction or expansion of school facilities, affordable and market rate housing, better transportation solutions and even commercial real estate. Why wouldn’t it also require the expansion of cultural facilities to better serve a growing and diverse population?

Currently in the pipeline are several new cultural facilities, expansion and upgrades of existing facilities, including many in areas of the county that lack infrastructure for cultural programs. The desire to engage in arts and heritage programs is not restricted to urban dwellers. Preservation projects in King County are often in rural areas, where farmsteads and barns proliferate. Building for Culture is a rare opportunity to recognize the essential role arts and culture play in community development. Twenty million dollars sounds like a lot, which it is, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to demand. It’s also a tremendous leveraging opportunity. Public sector investment is a signal to the rest of society that culture matters, but public investment in infrastructure is a small part of any organizations capital campaign. An organization’s ability to get private support, from individuals, foundation and the business community is enhanced by a public endorsement of the project.

Building for Culture has a September 9, 2015 application deadline. You can find all the information, the criteria and application on our website. If you are interested in applying for this opportunity, please take advantage of application workshops or speak directly with staff. Our goal is to have you submit the most complete and competitive application that you can.

Good luck.
Jim Kelly