Diana Toledo: Eliminate Arts & Culture, 4Culture; Put $ Into Public Schools

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On Sunday (June 26th), King County Council candidate Diana Toledo released a letter calling upon Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and County Executive Dow Constantine to “dissolve the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and the 4Culture agencies and put that money into Arts programs in the Public Schools.”

As many of our Readers may recall, Toledo lost to Joe McDermott last Fall by a 68% to 31.5% margin in her bid for the county council district number 8 position. The B-Town Blog sponsored candidates forums in 2010 featuring Toledo vs McDermott, which you can read about (and listen to audio recordings of) here.

Toledo is running again for the same council seat, facing off against McDermott and Goodspaceguy. The primary election is set for Aug. 16th.

4Culture is a tax-exempt public development authority (PDA) cultural services agency for King County. The majority of its funding comes from a portion of lodging tax revenues collected in King County. Since 1990, 4Culture has channeled these resources back into the local economy to help develop a thriving cultural community that serves visitors, residents and businesses.

The Seattle Office of Arts & Culture is a division of the City of Seattle, and according to its website, “promotes the value of arts and culture in and of communities throughout Seattle. By fostering and investing in the creative contributions of our artist citizens to every facet of the community, we engage the creativity in every resident and build a healthy and vibrant Seattle.”

Here’s Toledo’s full letter:

Art Funding For Youth, Not Cultural Elites

I am calling upon Mayor McGinn and KC Executive Constantine to dissolve the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and the 4Culture agencies and put that money into Arts programs in the Public Schools.

As a mother of three beautiful children I am concerned that our youth do not have the same access to Arts programs that we had growing up. During the early years of development is it crucial that our children are engaged in the creative processes that allow for the expression or originality, development of individuality, and the building of positive self esteem in a safe learning environment.

Currently, our children’s Principals do not receive a designated amount for Arts funding in K-12 King County Public Schools. Instead, each school Principal must sacrifice Math, English, or Technology programs in order to cover the cost of bringing Arts back to their school.

One way schools have found to work around this problem is by partnering with local community Arts programs; allowing use of the school classrooms and grounds to outside groups who offer Art related activities. Although some of these programs are very nice; the quality of programs, volunteer instructors, and classroom environment is not always consistent. And although most of these groups are funded by our tax dollars they are not bound by the same rules and regulations that a public school teacher is. Nor are these instructors required to receive the same certification, education, communication, and conflict resolution training that a public school teacher does. If our children’s school is lucky enough to have one of these programs teaching Arts onsite, the program and the instructor quality cannot be guaranteed. We must bring Arts back to the Public School curriculum!

Bring Art Teachers Back To Public Schools!
I believe that exposure to Arts at an early age helps build a bridge across racial, cultural and economical barriers. I believe providing Arts programs in our public schools allows and encourages children to interact with others, make new friends, break down stereotypes, and receive positive feedback from their peers in a safe environment. Sadly, we’ve seen Arts in Public Schools nearly eliminated over the past few years; even as millions upon millions of dollars in taxes go to fund elitist public art projects.

As cutbacks in our public schools result in teacher lay-offs and Art program eliminations, taxpayers are forced to fund the Office of Arts & Culture, the King County 4Culture Offices, and the City and County Government’s 1% for public arts programs.

Housed in the beautiful Seattle Municipal Tower; the Office of Arts & Culture share a floor with several other Executive Departments with duplicate management and administrative staff. Look down the street and you will find the King County 4Culture offices, offering many of the same services that the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture does. These prime real estate locations currently used by the Executive Offices could be made available to the private sector and would bring in even more money to help us get a handle on our out-of-control budget deficit.

It’s estimated that between the Office of Arts & Culture and King County 4Culture there is an approximately $20 million dollar yearly budget. Dissolving the agencies and putting those funds into public school Arts programs would eliminate the massive administrative staff fees and free up a larger amount of funding to make it to the children.

Although I love the Arts; I recognize it is not the responsibility of the government or the taxpayers to fund adults who choose the artist-lifestyle. Adult artists should be held to the same standard as accountants, bricklayers, or other working-class heroes; they must be able to compete in the marketplace based on providing a desired service. We must instead use our limited funds to educate and expose our youth to the Arts; and the public schools are the best place to do this.

As someone with strong ties to King County’s artist community I’ve often heard concerns and accusations of biased grant and funding systems, favoritism, quid pro-quos, and a climate that rewards waste and upside-down priorities in the Office of Arts & Culture and the King County 4Culture programs; this has many people saying that if nothing else, a major audit is needed.


I believe that funding of the Arts with the aim of increasing children’s creativity is appropriate; and that the best way to expose children to the Arts is to do so through the Public School system. We can no longer afford to fund the lifestyles of a few elites at the expense of our children’s education. It’s time to cut this waste and invest our tax dollars in our children.

The Office of Arts & Culture recently released a letter citing several studies supporting our belief that “greater involvement in the arts in middle and high school associates with higher level of achievement and college attainment, volunteerism and political participation.” – James Catterall (download and read PDF of OOAC Letter)

The Office of Arts & Culture’s document supports my argument that we must return Arts to the Public Schools. However, I disagree that the money must first process through their office. I don’t believe that we should filter millions in tax payer money through the bureaucracy of the Office of Arts & Culture office so that we can eventually squeeze a few thousand dollars to the Public Schools. Let’s eliminate the middle man and get the money directly to the Public School Arts programs.

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12 Responses to “Diana Toledo: Eliminate Arts & Culture, 4Culture; Put $ Into Public Schools”
  1. Guest says:

    The fact that so many artists agree with and are backing Diana Toledo on this is a sign that something needs to be done. Their Face Book group has a lot to say on the subject

  2. Not_D_Toledo says:

    This is a misleading letter. The purpose of OACA and 4Culture is so much greater than just providing funding to school arts programming. In addition, SPS isn’t even within the City of Seattle’s jurisdiction, so it wouldn’t make sense for McGinn to just give SPS millions of taxpayer dollars for SPS to administer on our behalf. That’s what school levies are for–taxpayers decide how/when significant amounts of our tax revenue is allocated for such use.

    On top of that, the city was instrumental in helping SPS land a $1M grant from the Wallace Foundation to support arts programming in our schools. If we really want to support the arts in our public school system we need the district to be sustainable through means other than city funding. The funding OACA and 4Culture directly provide is–and should be–in addition to the funding schools already allocate for arts programs.

    Lets not conflate the issues: Schools need more arts funding AND OACA/4Culture play critical roles as arts funders/economic engines in our community. Dissolving one does hurt the other.

    On top of that, the “Seattle Artists-United” FB page has only 2 friends… It seems like someone is trying to artificially generate broad public support in order to legitimize an unpopular opinion. I’d bet the “guest” comment was written by someone whose last name is Toledo as well. Just a hunch…

  3. Tom Taaffe says:

    “Elitist public art projects”… Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? I guess that “elitist” is the invective adjective of the moment.
    When I was a kid it was “pinko”. Referring to pinko art projects just wouldn’t carry much weight today. “Elitist” shouldn’t either.

  4. Guest says:

    @Tom – I think this is what is meant by “Elitist” is benefitting only a select few. The following is an example (from the Seattle Artist United FB page)

    “There have been complaints that the City Arts Commissioner/ Head of the Public Arts Committee is receiving a disproportionately large amount of City and County contracts. In the ten years prior to his appointment the City Arts Commission it appears that he averaged 2-3 minor commissions each year, most fairly small projects. However, following appointment to the Arts Commission Board in 2006 (where all final City funding decisions are made), this Commissioner began seeing a dramatic increase in Public Works projects, averaging 7 major projects per year and bringing himself several hundred thousand dollars in Public Works funding annually, primarily from the City of Seattle, Sound Transit’s 1% for Arts program, and 4Culture.

    An example of one such grant the Commissioner received is the Public works project “OCS Reeds” for Sound Transit Light Rail, which paid $159,475 to post “designer caps” on the top of poles along the Light Rail route, the commissioner then received another $53,000.00 to then put designer belts (called “Bangles”) around the same poles.”

  5. I think highly of Diana Toledo. She has many good ideas, however, I do not agree with her on this one. I value 4 Cultures and Arts programs. I have personally benefited from grants from 4 Culture at SCAN to do a documentary film on the Japanese Gardens, through the West Hill Business Association and West Hill Community Council to facilitate street fairs and the outdoor cinema. I have worked closely with many artist, spoken word, dancers, film projects, and exhibitions who have benefited from funding allowing them to share their works with a larger audience. Many of our important community festivals, fairs, and programs are supported by art dollars from these groups. Arts funding is an important way to facilitate a good quality of life for artist and the communities, neighborhoods, individuals and groups who create it and distribute it in a variety of forms.

  6. Inch says:

    4Culture should be abolished and the funding put to better use. I dare not imagine the artists, poets and writers whose “undesirable” work did not fit the taste of the “peer review panel” and therefore were denied funding. This body, the “peer review panel” is supposed to stand for objectivity and unbiased views in its yearly selection of artists for funding. Right. It matters little that the panel members are said to comprise different individuals each year, their perceptions will be the same. The individuals are nothing more than the new age, old boys and old girls club social network and their selection of yearly artist for awards presents an “understood” standard. Wink. 4Culture has little to do with “culture”, and I am sure this says a lot as to who is awarded funding and who is not. I extend my sympathy to the artistic work that is presented to the “unbiased peer review panel” by unsuspecting artists. Public funds should be used to promote inclusiveness, and Seattle’s public funded Arts Organizations have proven that this is not the case. Maybe Diana Toledo has the right idea. Abolish them all.

  7. Guest says:

    The fact is that Diana Toledo is drawing attention to a problem with a broken system and that is a good thing! Yes, both 4Culture and the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs do some good, yes, all broken systems do “some” good. But there are also a group of “insiders” that call the shots and are benefitting year after year from the rigged program. (Inch) said it correctly above, the “peer review panel” is corrupt, made up of new faces each year, but appointed by the same program manager from her select friends and funding the same programs and artists year after year.

    Meanwhile, as Diana Toledo pointed out, there is no dedicated money going towards arts in schools. As a matter of fact the 4Culture bi-laws actually prohibit the money being used for arts classes in public schools (?!?)

    Keep fighting for us Diana. The opposition will be strong against you, as there are many that are living a plush lifestyle at our expense, simply because they call themselves “artists”. Remember that you are fighting for our communities and most importantly our children. God bless you!

    • Matt says:

      “As a matter of fact the 4Culture bi-laws actually prohibit the money being used for arts classes in public schools (?!?)”

      As has been detailed in The Stranger http://bit.ly/iNF3AD this has nothing to do with 4Culture’s bylaws. This is state law. The law was written to allow the county to tax tourism-related activities to fund projects relating to economic development, including arts, heritage, and historic preservation. I didn’t write it, but I suspect it was written as such to keep opportunist politicians like Diana Toledo from subverting the law’s intent by diverting that money elsewhere. It sure looks like that was a prescient move on their part, doesn’t it?

      Regardless, you know full well that provision doesn’t keep money from funding projects that benefit school-age children all over the county. To quote your comment from the White Center Blog: “It looks like the grant that she states David Toledo received is actually a grant for the Charity that David volunteers at, and is to buy equiptment [sic] for the free youth programs it offers.”

      You’re trying to mislead people into thinking that this is about elitists vs. children, but people aren’t going to be fooled that easily.

  8. learnthelaw says:

    Aside from those recruited by the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs to spit “talking points”, the majority of people on the street agree with Diana, let’s fund arts programs in schools and stop paying for adults who want to live on government supported grants. If your art is something people want, then you will be able to make a living at it. If not, then you have no right to make me pay for it with my tax dollars. I’d rather my taxes go to certified school teachers and safe and secure programs.

    As for it being illegal (?). The RCW funding the 4Culture program (which states money raised can’t be used for school programs (idiotic), is over 2 years old and thus can be changed by the Legislature (as is very common). As for the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Mayor can take this money at any time and use it to contract with the public schools.

    The idea of defunding a program that basically gives the same money to the same people year after year will make “those” so-called artist furious with the thought of their “free-lunch” being cut off, but for those parents among us we see the real choice is between funding faulty programs or inspiring our kids. I’m choosing my kids and I’m voting for Diana Toledo!

  9. wayting says:

    I disagree. Artists and their projects should receive funding. What I do detest is the cliquish bias used to select the work of one artist over that of another. While most artists do have jobs, they also have to hustle in order for their work to gain recognition. And unfortunately, tokens such as funding awards are the way to recognition in the twisted art world. These little resume tokens can open doors if you have them, or keep them closed if you don’t. This city has a closed door policy.

  10. Kurt says:

    Two things are for sure, art fuding will not be eliminated for these organizations, and the folks they give money to is simply the way things are done. Live with it.

  11. Matt says:

    This is a joke. It would almost be funny if it weren’t such a transparently cynical power grab. The Stranger has already thoroughly covered why this is a terrible idea that will never happen: http://bit.ly/iNF3AD

    With all the real problems there are to be solved, David Toledo decided that it would be easier to make up an issue to get his sister elected. So he manufactured this ridiculous story about fat cat elitist artists and their huge government grants. He came up with a silly, faux populist way to make it about children so that Diana can campaign as being pro arts when in fact the opposite is true. When the facts didn’t conform to that story he distorted them or made up new ones.

    David set up “Seattle Artists-United” on Facebook. He knew that you can create a group on Facebook and add as many of your friends as you want to it without their permission, whether or not they agree with you or even know what the group is about. So he set up “Seattle Artists Supporting Kids, Not Cultural Elites” (he’s the group admin) and added a bunch of people to create the illusion that many other people are behind this idea.

    Then David started anonymously commenting on this blog post and on the version cross-posted to the White Center Blog at http://bit.ly/ktodz4 to make it look like other people are on his side. For good measure, he even posted excerpts from the text that he himself wrote so he could agree with it. You can tell which comments are his because they employ the same clumsy hyphenation and punctuation as the candidate’s letter (cf. “artist-lifestyle” and “Seattle Artists-United” with “…’those’ so-called artist [sic] furious with the thought of their ‘free-lunch’ being cut off…”). Another dead giveaway is the inclusion of tidy little campaign-speak phrases like “Keep fighting for our familys [sic] communities, and kids Diana!” and “Cheers for Diana Toledo!” and “the majority of the people on the street agree with Diana”.

    Make no mistake. There is no movement here. This isn’t grassroots advocacy; it’s astroturfing. I wasn’t paying much attention before but I sure will be now. I don’t want David and his sister anywhere near a position of real power.

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