Legislators salvage funding for Issaquah arts programs

June 7, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Shakespeare on the Green is due to return to the Issaquah Community Center next month — and the “Macbeth” performance is safe, after state legislators approved a last-minute measure to shore up funding for the King County cultural services agency, 4Culture.

In addition to Shakespeare on the Green — from the Seattle Shakespeare Co. — dollars from 4Culture fund dozens of other programs in the community. Overall, 4Culture allocated more than $50,000 to arts, cultural and heritage organizations in the Issaquah area for 2011. Some organizations, such as the Seattle Shakespeare Co., could not offer Issaquah programs without the funding.

City Arts Coordinator Amy Dukes said funding from 4Culture is important because dollars allotted through the Arts Sustained Support Program can be used for operating costs.

“That’s really hard funding to replace,” she said. “Most funders want their funding to go toward specific programming, so the fact that 4Culture gives out this funding that’s unrestricted is a huge benefit.”

Lawmakers passed the 4Culture legislation as the last bill before the special legislative session adjourned May 25.

“For the smaller heritage organizations, smaller arts organizations, individual artists around King County, I think 4Culture funding is pretty important,” 4Culture Executive Director Jim Kelly said. “I think it was the risk of losing that funding that really mobilized a lot of people.”

The agency relies on lodging tax revenue as a major funding source. Though the lodging tax is not due to expire, the portion of revenue allocated to 4Culture had been scheduled to end next year.

Kelly said the proposal seemed solid at the time lawmakers crafted the plan 21 years ago.

4Culture funding

The agency supported numerous arts, cultural and heritage organizations in the Issaquah area for 2011:

  • Reach Eastside Performing Arts — $1,500
  • Vedic Cultural Center — $1,500
  • Master Chorus Eastside — $1,800
  • ArtEAST — $2,500
  • Sammamish Symphony Orchestra — $2,790
  • City Arts Commission — $8,000
  • Village Theatre — $25,000

4Culture also supported Seattle groups offering programming in Issaquah:

  • Freehold Theatre — $6,000
  • Seattle Shakespeare Co. — $10,000

Both organizations’ Issaquah outreach programs faced the chopping block without 4Culture funding.
Source: City Arts Coordinator Amy Dukes.

“So, what’s going to happen to arts and heritage after 2012? ‘Well,’ the Legislature says in 1990, ‘beginning in 2001, you’ll set aside 40 percent of the lodging tax that you receive every year and capitalize an endowment. And after 2012, you’ll live off the interest income generated by the endowment,’” Kelly said. “At that point in the 1990s, people looked ahead and they thought the endowment might be $100 million.”

Instead, the endowment amounts to $42 million — far from enough to sustain 4Culture and associated programs for long.

“It became fairly clear to us several years ago that the long-term plan for funding arts and heritage in King County through an endowment was not going to work, so that’s when we began our effort down in Olympia,” Kelly said.

Issaquah organizations rely on funding

Starting in 2021, the legislation allocates 37.5 percent of lodging tax revenue for arts and heritage preservation programs in King County. In the meantime, 4Culture can spend the $42 million endowment as transition funding from 2013 until 2021.

(The measure also allows lodging tax revenue to be used for affordable workforce housing or services for homeless youth.)

Issaquah History Museums Executive Director Erica Maniez said funding from the organization is essential. The museums receive about $20,000 from 4Culture each year through the Arts Sustained Support Program and project grants — a sizable amount for a small organization. The museums’ annual budget ranges from $130,000 to $150,000.

“They really help organizations leverage other funding. We can go to our funders and say, ‘Hey, we have 18 grand from 4Culture to restore the caboose. We’re halfway there. What can you guys kick in?’” Maniez said. “It’s a lot less daunting than, ‘Hey, we need to raise 18 grand.’”

Dukes said organizations undergo a rigorous process to qualify for 4Culture funding.

“Getting funding from them is kind of a stamp of approval and really helps leverage other funding,” she said.

King County Executive Dow Constantine and influential Democrats in each legislative chamber — state Sen. Ed Murray and state Rep. Ross Hunter — advocated for the 4Culture bill.

Hunter represents Greenwood Point and South Cove neighborhoods in the 48th Legislative District.

“This was the seventh year we’ve been trying to do this. Before the session began, a couple of people asked me, ‘You’ve been trying this for six years and you’re going into your seventh. What’s going to be different?’ And the answer was Dow Constantine,” Kelly said.

The initial proposal to iron out 4Culture funding came as part of a broader package related to stadium taxes. Lawmakers approved the 4Culture portion only after removing the stadium proposal.

“I’m pleased the legislation adopted last night supports workforce housing, the arts and the 30,000 people who work in the arts in King County,” Constantine said in a statement. “An opportunity was missed here to build facilities to draw hundreds of thousands more visitors to this state, creating thousands of jobs in construction and tourism, and advancing economic recovery. I will continue to fight to make us more competitive, pull this region out of recession and get people back to work.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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