Manny Cawaling, dashing to his own event at Seattle’s Taproot Theatre, couldn’t resist popping in at School of Rock, a music school franchise located around the corner. “It’s not a scam,” he told an instructor. There really is $50 million of grants available to Washington’s arts and culture organizations.
Cawaling, executive director of Inspire Washington, is on a statewide Cultural Futures tour, eagerly spreading the word of this opportunity. Monday’s event at Taproot was the third stop on the 2022 tour, and there will be 13 more meetings in various cities through the end of June, plus three virtual meetings.
This is the third year that Inspire Washington, a statewide coalition that advocates and develops resources for the cultural sector, has hosted Cultural Futures. At the meetings, Cawaling and Jessi Wasson, Inspire Washington’s programs and operations manager, explain what they do, how they advocate for their sector at the Washington state Legislature, and what resources are available for these organizations. The meeting also includes an inverted Q&A session, where Cawaling and Wasson ask attendees about their challenges.
“What really gets them out is when we’re there to talk about money,” Cawaling said, and this year there’s more money than ever before.
Organizations in science, heritage or the arts that reported budgets less than $5 million in 2019 are eligible to apply for the state’s Working Washington Grants: Round 5 program. The Legislature allocated $70 million to the program, $45 million, or 60%, of which is dedicated to the cultural sector. Applications will open this summer at commercegrants.com.
Organizations with 2019 budgets of more than $5 million will also be able to apply for grants as part of a different program than Working Washington Grants. These organizations have $5 million of grants available among them, and more information on that program will be available this summer.
The grants, which come from the Washington State Department of Commerce, will have a shorter application time frame than a typical grant, so they are trying to spread the word as quickly as possible, Wasson said.
“A historic $50 million was awarded to cultural businesses this year,” Wasson said. “There are legitimate funds coming straight from the state, within our own communities, coming right back to those businesses.”
Inspire Washington has spent more than two years advocating for state and local funding at the Legislature, Cawaling said. Many organizations that Inspire Washington serves are not eligible for federal COVID-19-relief grants. For instance, for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, applicants had to have an auditorium with fixed seating.
“That mattered to us because we care about cultural equity. Every cultural program is important to the community that they serve,” Cawaling said.
At the end of the meeting, Cawaling and Wasson asked attendees where they were struggling and what they needed from the state. Almost everyone agreed that the biggest issues were increasing their venues’ accessibility (including physical accessibility and having interpreters), being able to pay the rent and keeping staff on board.
“Salaries are stagnant, and it’s hard to hire in the market, so I think staffing and just keeping people in the arts instead of them giving up and going into corporate America because it’s just more stable,” said Jennifer Tucker, managing director of Studio East Training for the Performing Arts in Kirkland.
The group also agreed that the hardest year yet will be 2023, a legislative session that Cawaling and Wasson are already preparing for.
“We’re looking at massive deficits this next year, because funding is running out, and folks aren’t coming back,” Wasson said. “We really need to hear from [organizations] and what it is that they need support for so that we can put in, most likely, our biggest ask yet to the state.”
Correction: Due to incorrect information from a source, an earlier version of this story misstated when the Working Washington Grants: Round 5 program will open, how long it will be open, how much the maximum grant will be, whether the grants are competitive and the URL for applications.
This coverage is partially underwritten by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over this and all its coverage.