By Dan Wu
The Office of Arts and Culture may be among the lesser-known city government departments, yet its programs supporting performances, events, and exhibits that serve an audience of more than 1.5 million participants in Seattle.
According to the annual report in 2015, the office spent approximately $2.5 million in art organizations and individuals to promote a diverse scene of art and culture.
“We are not just simply providing grants to them, but the more important is that we sit down together to hear and brainstorm with them to make their plans more complete,” said Kathy Hsieh, the Cultural Partnerships and Grants Manager of the office. “We also help them to solve some practical problems, like finding venues and contacts if they need. ”
The office oversees four main programs that involves art organizations, artists, students, and communities: public art, grants, the creative advantage, and cultural placemaking. The mission of the office is to create a pathway for equitable participation in the arts so that to foster enriching arts engagement for all residents.
For public art, the office supports and funds over 400 permanently sited and integrated works, and about 3000 portable works so far.
“It is really important to support the public art, which is the most directly way to enrich the city arts,” Hsieh said.
Grants that support individuals and organizations largely improve the quality and quantity of the art and culture activities in Seattle. These grants are available for anyone who is dedicated to promote the city’s art and cultural scene. In addition, there are several funding programs that target professional art organizations, artists, community groups, and individuals.
Creative advantage is a program that caters towards students, which enables all students to have the access to diverse arts education.
Communication Manager Erika Lindsay said, “We try to achieve this goal by 2020.”
“It’s necessary to provide students the chance to expose to different culture and art forms because their backgrounds are diverse and they may find their identities in the reflection of art,” Hsieh said.
The office is in partnership with the Office for Civil Rights. Social and racial equity is one of the basic work principles for the office, which makes a great effort to address and increase community-wide awareness about existing inequities. The office work together with art and cultural partners to reduce prejudice and discrimination, and toward a vision of racial equity eventually.
“The arts are often what people use to create awareness about those other issues and used as strategies to create change for those issues,” Hsieh said. “One of the reasons why our office is so focused on racial equity is because racism is still a life and death issue in our country as we see every day in the news. People are dying because of their race. Many of the arts and cultural events we fund are art projects that highlight these issues so that as a whole community we can work towards making the change.”
Being closely connect with the local communities is another focus of the office. The office supports many organizations and events related to Chinese immigrants, such as Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority, Chinese New Year Concert, and Chinese Art and Culture Festival.
“We worked with many Chinese immigrant organizations and artists in Seattle,” Hsieh said. “I am well-known in Chinatown/International District because I always work there.”
Hsieh also pointed out that the Office of Art and Culture is funded by the admissions tax added to the ticket price or other charge that attendees pay to enter entertainment venues or events in Seattle.
“Since our income comes from people who are supporting arts events, it makes sense that the funding goes back into arts events,” Hsieh said. “We know that the arts are important not only to people locally, but also to tourists coming to Seattle because the attendance at these events has continued to grow each year.”
Hsieh views arts and culture as a catalyst for the local economy.
“Our income is not taking away from money that is going towards other basic needs, and if anything, we often invest in arts & cultural events that use the arts as a way to highlight community concerns.”
Meanwhile, the office treasures every penny. Money is only used to support the applicants but not on the branding of the office.
“We are a servant department,” Hsieh said. “We would not spend too much on marketing, the only way we branding is to go deep into the communities.”
Organizations and individuals concerning art and culture are welcome to apply for funding and ask for advice from the office.
Lindsay said, “The best way for people to apply to our grants is to check our website. In addition, for every grant, we offer technical assistance and workshops held in the community to help people navigate the process.”
Now the biggest challenge for the grants team of this office is the demand and resource. More and more artists and organizations apply for funding every year.
“[This] demonstrates the value that the arts have in our community,” Hsieh said. “No matter how much we strive to support the arts, the demand is always greater than our available resources.”
But for the office as a whole, the big concern is more than just funding.
“We want to make sure our work is rooted in the City’s Race and Social Justice initiative and the biggest challenge is to effect and make real change in our ARTS community” Lindsay said. “Everyone needs to pick up the mantle, build bridges and forge a stronger, equitable, inclusive society.”
For more information on the Office of Arts and Culture, visit seattle.gov/arts/programs/grants