By Virginia Wright
There is a very important piece of legislation before the King County Council right now which could have a profound impact on the local cultural economy: arts and heritage organizations, the people who work and volunteer in this sector, and the patrons and audiences who interact with the programs and works of these institutions and individuals.
An admirable handful of these organizations and individuals are in Burien, facing uncertainty with regard to how this legislation will go and what might result if it passes. 4Culture is a public agency that distributes funding generated through a tiny percentage of the lodging tax collected by King County. As a critical source of funding for this sector, 4Culture has an enormous impact on the arts and heritage organizations and individual artists throughout the county. For the most part it functions independently from politics, but interfaces with the King County Council through three council member ex-officio board members, and engages the public in funding decisions directly through service on peer review grant panels. The proposed ordinance, #2018-0086, was developed to produce an additional level of oversight over 4Culture.
The three primary impacts of this legislation are that the council would have veto power over the 4Culture annual budget, the council would have the power to hire and fire the Executive Director of 4Culture, and the council would be able to appoint people to the 4Culture Board of Directors. The insertion of additional control by the King County Council into the workings of 4Culture could have the minimal and benign impact that its supporters say it would have. But there is also the very real possibility that this introduction of political control over the agency will have a damaging and destabilizing impact.
The full text of the ordinance is availailable online here:
When news of the proposed ordinance first reached the arts and heritage community, the immediate response was one of shock and fear since the legislation was developed without direct official involvement by the people most directly impacted by it. In the past few weeks there has been an uprising of passionate advocacy to preserve the independence and integrity of 4Culture, but the outcome is unclear.
As citizens we are all touched by the work done by arts and heritage organizations, as well as the work of individual artists, from walking past public art installations on the way to work, to becoming a season subscriber to a local performing arts group, to serving on a board of directors for one of those same institutions. This proposed legislation adds a political layer into county level funding, affecting a county agency that has operated with indisputable success and integrity for many years. 4Culture does not currently operate under direct decision-making capacity by elected officials. Take a few minutes to read the statement developed by 4Culture (linked below) in response to the ordinance, which was as much of a surprise to the organization as it was to the rest of the arts and heritage community. Note that there are already considerable levels of involvement in 4Culture decision-making by the three King County Council members who serve as ex-officio members of the 4Culutre board, and by the public, who serve on the board and on all of the funding committees.
From 4Culture’s official statement on the ordinance:
“There are 14 public agencies similar to 4Culture located in King and Pierce Counties. If this ordinance is passed, 4Culture will be the only one with a governing authorityâ€”in this case, the King County Councilâ€”that has direct political veto power over the Executive Director, can remove professional staff, can veto program or capital budgets, and can appoint Board Directors by elective district.”
Read the full 4Culture Statement here:
Contact King County Council members with feedback on this important issue. Dave Upthegrove represents Burien on the Council, and is one of the sponsors of this legislation:
There are multiple ways people can get more directly involved in advocacy on this very important issue. At 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning (Feb. 21) at the King County Courthouse there will be a public meeting on the issue, and a large turnout of people who care about this is important.
Additionally, direct communication to council members and other Washington State legislators is a significant way to help make sure this decision is made in the best interest of the people, whether they are directly involved through employment or volunteer work in the arts and heritage sector, or whether they are the members of the public – the beneficiaries of that work. For a full list of contact info of councilmembers, click here: