Homelessness and housing. Gentrification and displacement. Transportation and the climate. Equity and minority rights. Crime and police accountability. Education and the city’s schools. The final weeks of the race for District 3’s seat on the Seattle City Council are filled with topical forums dedicated to specific problems — and opportunities — for the city.
There are so many issues for candidates to discuss ahead of next month’s general election arts, culture, and heritage programming could be easily overlooked. At a Monday night forum at Town Hall, incumbent Kshama Sawant and her challenger Egan Orion got to discuss their approaches to preserving and enhancing the arts community in District 3, a cultural hub for the city.
D3, which includes Capitol Hill and the Central District, is a flashpoint for many of the arts issues across the city, from employees unionizing at Frye Art Museum to the funding of cultural centers and affordable housing at places like 12th Avenue Arts and many other theaters and performance venues.
While Sawant, who has served on the council since 2014, touted her legislative experience, including her plan to save the Showbox music venue from redevelopment and her office’s support of the Somali arts community, Orion stressed his personal history in the arts, from a young gay kid that didn’t fit in before joining theater at 10-years-old (“it changed my life”) to running one of Seattle’s biggest events: Pridefest.
“I know the importance of [Pridefest] to both my community and the greater community. Arts and culture is worth investing in for our kids, for marginalized communities, for a livable city,” Orion said Monday night at the forum hosted by Inspire Washington and KNKX. “It’s the work I do everyday and it’s the work that I’ll dedicate myself to on city council.”
The usual contrasts between Sawant and Orion were once again prevalent in the brief forum, with the Broadway Business Improvement Area head stressing the importance of public-private partnerships in the arts and the help that big business and philanthropists can provide in supporting cultural events.
The Socialist Alternative council member, on the other hand, criticized corporations for what she sees as their bad faith negotiating.
“When candidates say that big business need to be brought to the table, I think the response to that is ‘big business owns the table and, in fact, has shown itself capable of flipping the table over unless they get their way of maintaining this city as a corporate tax haven,” Sawant said.
Between the primary and next month’s general election, Orion’s campaign has been boosted by more than $200,000 in independent expenditures from the business-friendly Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee.
When asked for her vision of a prosperous creative economy in Seattle, Sawant called on taxing big business to avoid the stingy arts funding that she argues the city has carried out in recent years and the underfunding of public schools where creativity begins.
“The problem is not a lack of creativity; the problem is there is so much gutting of resources at the bottom in order to actually make this possible,” she said. “The only way they are going to achieve any kind of thriving urban vision for our city is to refuse to accept a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul approach that the city establishment has used decade after decade.”
“We should refuse to pit — allow them to pit — affordable housing against art and culture and make sure everything is funded together.”
Orion claimed that the city has not prioritized some arts and cultural events and said that some will cease to exist if Seattle does not shift to prioritize them.
He said that dense neighborhoods are important in helping artists thrive, both so they can have access to housing and other services but also to get motivation from other artists.
“I know, being an artist, that I’m looking for inspiration in the neighborhoods that I walk in and the cafes that I hang out with, the people that I interact with,” Orion said. “I think we need to limit those barriers that exist to thriving.”
Orion added that the recent extension of paid parking to 10 PM in some areas has discouraged art consumers from going to the theater and, for example, seeing movies at Northwest Film Forum. And he also voiced support for a .10% sales tax increase to support the arts, a call that was greeted with applause from the audience.
Monday’s forum, which included time for all seven city council races, was live-streamed on Facebook and can be watched here.
Ballots for the general election will be mailed out October 16 and drop boxes will open the next day. They won’t close until the evening of November 5. Voters will have a chance to listen to the candidates in several more forums before the race is decided, including an event sponsored by a Catholic organization on Wednesday and a debate on police accountability in Beacon Hill on the day ballots go out.
You can read all of CHS’s Election 2019 coverage here.
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