letter from the director: tick, tick, tick

lullaby_moonIf this is January, then it must be time again for 4Culture staff, board and advisory committees to gear up to talk to legislators about securing future funding for arts and heritage in King County. But now it’s getting serious, since this is the last long session before lodging tax revenues for cultural programs in King County sunset.

You are most certainly aware that the task for legislators in Olympia this year to pass a balanced budget will be daunting. I won’t recap some of the highlights of the Governor’s budget proposal. Much has already been written about the potential impact of the budget on programs impacting the cultural sector statewide. There is little comfort in the knowledge that culture is not being singled out. The recession has reduced state revenues to the point that many essential social, human and education services cannot be adequately funded.

In this environment, does it even make sense for 4Culture to ask the legislature to fund arts and heritage in King County?

My answer is an emphatic, “yes!” Let’s dispel the myth that funding culture means we have less for social services. In fact, the opposite is true. Arts and heritage are an economic engine, not a hand-out; they directly provide thousands of jobs and indirectly, thousands more. They are a key component of the tourism sector, drawing visitors to our region. After the Picasso exhibit closes at Seattle Art Museum, we’ll get a clearer picture of the economic impact of this three-month event. Judging from my two visits to Picasso and seeing first-hand the crowds that packed the galleries, I think it will be most impressive. Shortly, ArtsFund will release data from its most recent Economic Impact survey, which undoubtedly will confirm that attendance at arts events and ancillary spending contribute millions to the local economy and generate millions in tax revenues to the state.

As for the future of the lodging taxes distributed by 4Culture for arts and heritage in King County? It is in the hands of the legislature. Securing lodging tax revenues for arts and heritage in King County in the 2011 session will have no impact on the state’s biennial budget. None. Legislation sponsored in the last several years simply asks the state to give 4Culture permission to spend down its endowment over a period of seven years, with the promise of a small portion of lodging taxes being re-authorized for culture in 2021 to sustain the program after 2021. It’s a bet on the future. It’s a simple message.

Will a simple message be heard in the “noise” that will dominate this session? Will legislators be willing to look ahead to what we can all only hope will be better times?

I think they will. In the last couple of years the House and Senate have passed bills that fund arts and heritage. They just haven’t passed the same bill yet.

Now the clock is running out. I’m confident that the sun will not set on arts, heritage and preservation in King County.

Image: Lucia Neare’s Lullaby Moon, photo by Michael Doucett