In the fourth year of the pandemic, Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture will provide about $3 million less in pandemic-recovery programming, if Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposed 2023-24 budget is adopted.
The Office of Arts & Culture (ARTS), primarily funded by Seattle’s 5% admissions tax and City Light 1% for Art fund, promotes the value of arts and culture, manages programs ensuring public access to art and provides grants. At $18.3 million, the proposed 2023 budget for ARTS is about $3 million less than the adopted 2022 budget. Much of that difference is due to the discontinuation of one-time pandemic-relief funding included in the 2022 budget.
Such subtractions include $500,000 in individual-artist relief, $1.5 million in recovery funding for neighborhoods most impacted by the pandemic, and $1 million in grants for organizations that weren’t eligible for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. The pandemic relief in 2022 was funded by federal Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds and Seattle’s JumpStart payroll tax — funds that are not available to ARTS for 2023, said royal alley-barnes, ARTS’ acting director.
The only pandemic relief carried over from the 2022 budget to the proposed 2023 budget is $1 million for Hope Corps, a program that provides $15,000-$300,000 worth of project funding for creatives in need of work. Hope Corps, which has been funded by Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds and payroll tax, would be funded by admissions-tax revenue in 2023. It is not included in the proposed 2024 budget.
The decision to include Hope Corps in the proposed 2023 budget was driven by the “demonstrable need” for jobs in the arts, alley-barnes said, noting that Hope Corps was only able to fund 29 out of more than 300 project requests in 2022. The projects funded this year come from both individual artists and organizations, from a live concert series by Seattle-based singer-songwriter J.R. Rhodes, to Yes, Ma! Market, a night market on Beacon Hill.
“The mayor recognizes that the most impactful investments to help artists recover from the economic hardship sustained during the pandemic is to provide access to arts job opportunities,” she said.
The proposed 2023 budget is also absent $500,000 in the 2022 budget that went to equity and cultural education, providing art experiences for youth of color between the ages of 3 and 17. In 2022, the City Council decided to make this one-time funding, alley-barnes said.
Additions in the 2023 budget revolve around ARTS jobs, including a new part-time visitor-services position for the ARTS office at King Street Station. There is also extra funding to reclassify and expand two positions: an operations director to help with community engagement, and a racial-equity coordinator who will focus on external work in race and equity.
Local arts leaders had mixed reactions to the proposed 2023 budget.
Bernie Griffin, managing director of the 5th Avenue Theatre, said she is very supportive of the Hope Corps program, especially since the sector has seen a decrease in its workforce due to job insecurity.
“Even for those of us that are leaders of big regional institutions, it’s about centering the people. How do we support our people?” she said. “That’s an inspirational piece of the mayor’s budget.”
Jeffrey Herrmann, managing director of Seattle Rep, said that while he’s “thrilled” the city is providing support for individual artists, organizations need the same support.
“No organization in our city can thrive long term if we lose our artists,” he said. “At the same time, artists also need healthy arts organizations to employ them if they are going to thrive long term, too.”
The proposed 2023 ARTS budget, he said, “feels very back to normal,” but the sector is not. “I know people are so over the pandemic — believe me, I am, too,” he said, “but arts organizations are going to be grappling with the economic impact of the pandemic for several years to come.”
Tim Lennon, director of LANGSTON, the nonprofit that oversees programming at the ARTS-managed Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, said “the budget, and certainly the Office of Arts & Culture’s communication around the budget, shows no real connection to the realities of fixing our sector.” He was referencing a news release about the budget that ARTS sent out on Sept. 27, listing four key points, one being the continuation of Hope Corps, the other three being the job changes in ARTS.
“It’s kind of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” he said. “It seems like the Office of Arts & Culture is more focused on internal staff crises and internal staff rotations than the health of our entire sector, which seems out of alignment with their stated values and goals.”
In 2023 and beyond, alley-barnes said, ARTS will focus on pursuing programs and initiatives that support the sector’s general well-being beyond the pandemic.
The City Council will review the mayor’s proposed budget, and hold three public hearings: 5 p.m. Oct. 11, 9:30 a.m. Nov. 8 and 5 p.m. Nov. 15. The City Council’s final vote and adoption of the budget are planned for Nov. 21.
This coverage is partially underwritten by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over this and all its coverage.