Thanking Charlie Rathbun for 30 Years of Arts Advocacy

Photo by Sunita Martini, 2019.

This month, we get ready to say goodbye to Charlie Rathbun, who is retiring after nearly 30 years at 4Culture—which was known as the King County Arts Commission at the time Charlie joined! Here, 4Culture staff and friends share their thoughts and wishes for our Arts Program Director:

“If there’s one thing to know about Charlie, it’s that he has a particular affection for the emergent: the emerging artist, the new theatre company, the green city arts administrator. Charlie is a sucker for possibility. And his cowboy countenance is a dead giveaway that he sees more than meets the eye; he’s about to place a bet. When I look out at the arts landscape in King County today, I mostly see Charlie’s bets. He’s given thousands of people, organizations, and communities their big break or the lifeline they needed to get from one year to the next.

Charlie has been with us from the beginning. He’s shaped every curve and angle, worked with everyone past and present. And to imagine 4Culture—and indeed the whole of the arts community—without Charlie seems nearly impossible. Who else as a heart and mind that big to hold us all? Perhaps Charlie’s biggest gift to us was that after all this time he taught us how to bet on ourselves. Which is precisely what this moment demands from us.”
—Joshua Heim, Deputy Director

“When people ask where I work and I tell them 4Culture, the next question is “Do you work with Charlie?!” Then they launch into a story about how Charlie helped them find – 50 tutus, a grassy field, a gumball machine – whatever crazy thing they needed for their art project. He’s not a bureaucrat, he’s an arts advocate. I can’t believe he’s gonna go. We love you Charlie.”
—Heather Dwyer, Arts Program Manager

“If you were to somehow look at most of the amazing or groundbreaking artistic happenings that have brightened the lives of King County residents during the past 20-plus years, chances are Charlie Rathbun was somewhere behind the scenes at each of those. Not only does he care deeply about artists, but he is one of those rare administrators whose first instinct is an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’ We’ll all miss that.”
—Lucia Neare, artist

“Charlie Rathbun—in addition to be a cheerful, buoyant person who never fails to bring positive energy into any conversation—has been a guiding light for me. He champions serving our constituents over adhering to bureaucratic restrictions. He always wants to explore and experiment, both in the arts themselves and in how we fund them. He represents, to me, the spirit of 4Culture at its best.”
—Bret Fetzer, Arts Program Manager

“Thank you for being my mentor, guide and best friend here since the beginning. You’re the heart of this outfit and I will deeply miss your presence. For all the joy and goodwill you’ve spread for the past thirty years, you deserve the best and most fun retirement ever!”
—Doreen Mitchum, Arts Program Manager

“When I think about 4Culture, Charlie Rathbun is as much the visual image for me as the logo. He has been such an important part of this agency’s growth and development and he has inspired, innovated, guided and helped us find the joy in what King County has to offer us all through arts and culture. Charlie will be sorely missed, but make no mistake, his fingerprint is on so much of the organization’s work and will live on. Thank you Charlie for all of your contributions and all the best for an incredibly well-deserved retirement!”
—Vivian Phillips, 4Culture Board President

“You will be missed not only at 4Culture, but in the arts community in King County. When I think about you and your work, the one thing that stands out to me was your unfailing admiration for and love of artists, which was evident in every action you were engaged in for almost three decades. Others may not realize the essential role you played in expanding arts opportunities in the suburbs and in the rural parts of the county through the local arts agency network that you hosted for twenty years. You were a great colleague who constantly pushed to do the next big thing, to “bust a move,” when we were getting too complacent. Enjoy the next chapter.”
—Jim Kelly, former 4Culture Executive Director

“Charlie has an incredible ability to see the positive in every project and every person. Possessing a strong desire and tireless effort to make every project work for its community, he always leaves a positive and encouraging impact in everything he touches. I don’t think I have ever met a more gracious, hard working and humble person in my arts career.”
—Stephen Elliot, former 4Culture Board President

“Charlie knows every single arts group in King County. His unique Site Specific program brings creative expression to communities in every corner of King County, and his decades of dedication to promoting local arts agencies and advisors with patience and charm are legendary. I was so very lucky to learn from him.”
—Deb Twersky, former 4Culture Deputy Director