Seattle art organizations' audience-development and outreach efforts are receiving timely and substantial support from the Wallace Foundation.

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THE $7.7 million awarded to Seattle arts organizations struggling to build and broaden audiences underscores the central role of the arts in any community.

Economic times are tough. Giving to the arts is down. But the award from the New York-based Wallace Foundation is proof that shows must still go on.

Seattle Times theater critic Misha Berson offers a picture of how deeply into communities the new money will travel. The Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra will use its portion of the award, $500,000, to expand its partnership with Seattle Public Schools. The orchestra’s goal is to bring performances and music programs to 6,000-10,000 new Seattle students, many of them Latinos and African Americans.

The local performance-arts venue On the Boards will use its $750,000 grant for an innovative effort to broaden its audience. OtbTV is a pilot online program featuring high-definition performances. The target is young people used to doing everything online, including — thanks to OtbTV — watching live performances.

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The Washington State Arts Commission will receive $1.6 million from Wallace to develop workshops and forums targeting skill development for arts-organization leaders.

This windfall comes at a crucial time. Traditional sources of funding for the arts — federal and state governments and corporate and private donations — are down.

Yet, in a pinched economy, the presence of art venues becomes more critical.

Seattle has an economic interest in maintaining a strong arts scene. In the past, this region’s vibrant arts community fostered more than $1 billion in economic activity. A study only a few years old noted that more than 28,000 full- and part-time jobs were generated by the arts, with payrolls of more than $465 million. Seattle’s rich cultural and artistic offerings help attract the best and brightest to work here.

The Wallace Foundation spreads its grants around various cities as part of its “Excellence Award” program. Seattle was a perfect choice.

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