Letter from the Director: Person of the Year

5834 Party at the Paramount, © 2011, Photo by Scott Squire

As is its custom, Time magazine’s final issue of the year names its Person of the Year.   This year: “The Protester.”

That got me to thinking.  What if 4Culture started an annual tradition deeming an artist or a historian (and I admit this is a bit clunky) “The Cultural Worker of the Year” in King County?  Who would it be?  Would it even be possible to honor a single individual from the thousands of cultural workers in King County?  They are painters and sculptors, dancers and choreographers, musicians and composers, actors, directors, writers, curators, volunteers.   They are preservationists, historians, museum directors, administrators and critics.   All dedicated to the simple proposition that culture matters to people, neighborhoods, cities and beyond.

With that preface and taking my cue from Time, I will now boldly name “The Cultural Worker of 2011.”

The Advocate.

Something magical happened in 2011.  The cultural community raised its collective voice to achieve a legislative victory in Olympia that many thought impossible.   Literally hundreds of advocates decided to take action, emailed their legislators, attended hearings and Town Hall meetings, left messages with aides and staff asking the legislature to support arts and culture.   With a stunning determination, the Advocates were relentless, increasing the volume as the session wound down. They organized themselves with impressive strength.  And they won.   They learned their voices do matter.

But their work is not done.

If they choose to remain active, secure in the notion that they have a collective power to affect change, there are many battles to be fought in the future.

The state arts commission will be fighting for its life in the next few years.   Budget deficits and a reluctance to implement new taxes mean additional state services will be reduced or cut.   Will Washington follow the path of Kansas?

Building for the Arts and Heritage Capital programs, by far the largest public commitment to cultural support made by the State of Washington throughout the past two decades, was reduced by tens of millions of dollars last year, with devastating impact to the organizations and communities who would have benefitted from jobs those cultural facilities would generate.

The City of Seattle has an ordinance directing 75% of admission taxes to the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs.   In the past two years, the city’s adopted budget directed that some of these funds go to the Parks Department for art programs in the parks that were previously funded out of the Parks budget.

There may be bills introduced in Olympia to eliminate the state Percent for Arts Program (again) and/or remove the property tax exemption currently in place for non-profits who own or rent real estate.

Many of the suburban city arts commissions are seeing staff reductions and funding cuts, eliminating local festivals and free performances in parks.

Advocacy on behalf of the things you believe in never ends.

Jim Kelly

P.S. Advocates looking for causes in 2012 are invited to turn to the Washington State Arts Alliance website for more info about the issues, and/or attend Arts and Heritage Day in Olympia on February 1st.