Sunday, October 25, 2009

"The Arts and a new Seattle mayor"

Florangela Davila (KPLU), with audio (03:35):
Gallery owner Greg Kucera was showing art to a patron in his Pioneer Square venue when the political courting began.
"Joe Mallahan called my office you know a week or so ago and asked for my endorsement of his campaign," Kucera recalled. "And I had to say, Well, Joe, I haven't seen anything about the arts and that's a huge part of my interest in all of this.'"

Kucera, who's been in the art business for close to three decades, says Seattle once had the good fortune of having four very pro-arts mayors in a row.

"Wes Uhlman, Norm Rice, (Charles) Royer and (Paul) Schell. All of those men really supported the arts in a big way and have continued to do so even after their terms of mayor," Kucera said.

But now he's faced with choosing between Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn, two political unknowns, neither who's impressed Kucera as being a patron, an advocate or even all that knowledgeable about the arts.

Seattle's arts scene is a robust, economic force. Someone who tracks this closely is Jim Tune, the CEO of ArtsFund, a statewide advocacy group.

"Arts groups and cultural groups in Seattle have an annual attendance of close to $12 million and budgets of more than $300 million. So, not only do the arts make life worth living they help us economically," Tune said.

In this year's campaign for Seattle Mayor, Joe Mallahan, a T-Mobile executive, and Mike McGinn, a lawyer and former Sierra Club chairman, have had a lot to say about transportation, the Alaskan Way viaduct, the city's gun ban policy. Even the state's domestic partnership law.

But both mayoral candidates waited until very late in the campaign to talk at length about their vision for the arts. [Seattle Channel theme music plays] That's the city-operated Seattle Channel. In prior elections, the local arts community hosted an arts-focused debate. But when it couldn't get this year's candidates to find the time for one, it convinced Mallahan and McGinn to at least sit down for separate, taped interviews.

Both candidates called the arts important and vital but they also admitted to not being a subscriber to any local arts organization.

They did, however, reveal what they listen to on their iPods:

McGinn: Coltrane and Miles Davis on there. I have some Roots Reggae and some Riders of the Purple Sage.

Mallahan: Van Morrison, Groove Armanda, Bob Dylan, Carole King.

Both candidates support arts education, revitalizing Seattle Center, and investing in public art. They also support Mayor Greg Nickels' proposal to fund the city's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs with admission tax revenue. But McGinn says he also wants to support the city's arts office with general fund money.

Arts leaders say it'll be a steep learning curve for whoever becomes the next Seattle mayor. But they're not entirely pessimistic given the city's recent history.

Greg Nickels became mayor during an economic slump. And in stark contrast to his predecessor Paul Schell, he was hardly an "arts" guy. Still, he supported nearly $20 million in capital investments for cultural institutions including McCaw Hall and the Seattle Art museum.

Arts leaders say it's their job to teach the next mayor about the arts and their relevance. That education has already begun, says arts advocate Jim Tune.
"It's not where they came from but they're beginning to understand what the arts mean in the community." FYI McGinn or Mallahan. When you take office in January, the performing arts calendar kicks off with "Il Trovatore" at McCaw Hall.

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