Beautiful voices alone don’t make a choir great. Also needed are lyrics, notes and a shared vision. Likewise, cities require more than talented individuals to achieve cultural harmony. They also need a plan, says Michael Sullivan, Tacoma’s manager of cultural resources - one that considers a community’s strengths, its weaknesses and its hopes for the future.
Tacoma completed its cultural plan two years ago, and Sullivan calls the results astonishing. Arts-related jobs and revenue have doubled, and community pride is on the upswing. Says Sullivan, “This city has changed forever.”
Now it’s our turn.
Spokane Arts Commission volunteers will host 15 neighborhood forums during the next two months, asking residents what they like and don’t like about Spokane’s cultural life, which issues they consider most important, and what they want to see happen here by 2005.
Volunteers also will meet with groups representing various art disciplines - musicians, dancers, writers, educators, ethnic and folk artists, and others.
Finally, they’ll conduct “key person” interviews, asking those most familiar with Spokane’s cultural scene for their opinions, and whether they can be counted on to help achieve the plan’s goals.
The report, underwritten by an $11,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, should be drafted by early fall. Representatives chosen at the neighborhood meetings will get an opportunity to comment before the final version is presented to the City Council for possible adoption as part of the Comprehensive Plan.
Sue Ellen Heflin, the city’s arts director, traces the project’s roots to the arts commission’s annual planning session last year.
“There was a very strong call for more neighborhood programs and activities for kids at risk,” she recalls. “But we didn’t want to take the approach of, ‘Hi, we’re the government, we know what’s good for you.’ We really needed to ask people what they wanted to see happen in their neighborhoods before we could try to find funds for that.”
The NEA agreed. In fact, says Tacoma’s Sullivan, the federal agency has been encouraging longrange arts planning for years. “The NEA gives more weight to applications from cities that have plans,” he points out, “and to projects that seemed to be in pursuit of those plans.”
Yet even without the NEA carrot, Sullivan says cultural planning should be part of a city’s natural evolution. “I’m surprised we didn’t do it sooner,” he says.
Most major cities have already gone through some sort of art planning process. When Tacoma launched its effort three years ago, Sullivan borrowed from Portland and L.A.’s models.
Because Tacoma’s arts community was relatively small, the city tried to be as inclusive as possible, seeking comment from groups and individuals who might ordinarily have thought their ideas weren’t relevant.
“We looked at various multicultural and ethnic issues,” says Sullivan. “And since we’re an older city with lots of historic buildings, we considered our architectural heritage and the possible reuse of older structures. All these elements were blended into the planning process.”
Tacoma’s plan, which eventually cost $30,000, reflects the advice and insight of 2,500 residents. Bringing together a broad range of civic, cultural and business leaders and getting them working together “is as important as the final document,” Sullivan says.
The planning process also motivated groups and individuals to take action on their own once problems were identified. “Some of those efforts were in the works even before the ink was dry on the final report,” Sullivan says.
Tacoma’s can-do attitude has become increasingly apparent in the face of challenges to public funding for the arts.
“There’s not the same level of discouragement in our arts community about the state and federal government’s growing indifference to arts and culture,” observes Sullivan.
“We’re much more confident about what we can accomplish on our own,” he says. “There’s a pretty broad understanding within Tacoma right now that cultural development is where the action is.”
Spokane’s arts director hopes cultural planning can generate the same level of enthusiasm here.
“I don’t think we have a unified vision yet,” Heflin acknowledges, and she accepts part of the blame.
“In the past, the arts commission has focused on specific projects, like establishing a gallery in City Hall. But, as far as I can tell, no one ever opened the doors (to the whole community) and said, ‘Ya’ll come and tell us what it is you want to see happen.”’
Heflin also finds fault in the way foundations and corporations decide which local arts to support. In general, she says, they prefer to fund established, high-visibility programs like the symphony, at the expense of riskier endeavors. “There just isn’t that feeling of adventure and playfulness that you see in cities like Minneapolis and Seattle,” laments Heflin.
A case in point is professional dance.
“There are thousands of kids in this town who dance. We have schools for ballet, for tap, jazz. Yet there’s very little for students to see professionally, and that perplexes me.
“I know (professional dance) is expensive,” Heflin says. “But with all these kids taking lessons, and their parents obviously believing it’s important enough that they’re going to spend their money to educate their kids as dancers, why can’t we find the dollars for a professional dance company?”
Still, Heflin is optimistic. She calls the growth in theater “tremendously exciting,” and sees encouraging signs in the visual arts and music, as well.
“We’re never going to resolve everything” with a cultural plan, Heflin predicts, “but at least if we know the general direction that people would like to see things headed, then we can start working together toward common goals.”
xxxx Call us with your opinions The Spokane Arts Commission has compiled a list of questions it wants local residents to consider. Your answers will help shape the city’s cultural plan, and perhaps Spokane’s future. The questions include: What are some good things about Spokane’s cultural life? What’s not working so well? Do you think the current cultural offerings reflect the interests, cultural makeup and nature of the city? How can the arts help address neighborhood issues? What do you think Spokane will be like in 2005, and what role will the arts play? The Spokesman-Review also would like to hear your thoughts about Spokane’s arts scene. Please call Cityline at 458-8800 in Washington or 765-8811 in Idaho, category 9895. You’ll need a touchtone phone. Cityline is free but normal long-distance charges apply. If you’re willing to be contacted by a reporter, leave your name and a daytime telephone number along with your Cityline response.
Getting involved in the planning process During the next eight weeks, Spokane Arts Commission volunteers will visit 15 neighborhoods and meet with arts groups and individuals to identify cultural goals local residents would like to see pursued during the next decade. If you want to participate in the process, attend one of the following meetings: Neighborhood forums Today, 2 p.m., Peaceful Valley Community Center, 214 N. Cedar. Tuesday, 7 p.m., Holy Family Hospital’s Health Education Center, 5633 N. Lidgerwood. Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., East Central Community Center, 500 S. Stone. April 26, 7 p.m., Woodridge Elementary School library, 5100 W. Shawnee. May 3, 7 p.m., Manito Park Garden Center. May 6, 2 p.m., Cheney Cowles Museum auditorium, 2316 W. First. May 9, 6:30, Hamblen Elementary multipurpose room, 4005 S. Napa. May 10, 7 p.m., Corbin Senior Center, 827 W. Cleveland. May 11, 6:30 p.m., Northeast Community Center, 4001 N. Cook. May 13, 1 p.m., West Central Community Center, 1603 N. Belt. May 16, 7 p.m., Woman’s Club of Spokane, 1428 W. Ninth. May 17, 7 p.m., Shadle Park High School cafeteria, 4327 N. Ash. May 31, 7 p.m., Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral Education Center, 15 N. Madison. June 7, 7 p.m., Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute Fireside Room, 4000 W. Randolph. Individuals involved or interested in a particular art discipline should attend one of the following meetings: Design arts: April 19, 7 p.m., Integrus Architecture, 10 N. Cedar. Arts education: April 27, 4 p.m., City Hall’s Chase Gallery, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. Media/film/interdisciplinary: April 29, 3 p.m., Spokane Arts School, third floor, 920 N. Howard. Musical arts: April 30, 2 p.m., Davenport Hotel’s Isabella Room, 807 W. Sprague. Visual arts: May 18, 7 p.m., City Hall’s Chase Gallery, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. Dance: May 20, 2 p.m., Metropolitan School of Ballet, second floor, 820 W. Sprague. Ethnic and folk arts: May 24, 6 p.m., American Indian Community Center, 905 E. Third. Theater arts: June 3, 11 a.m., Spokane Civic Theatre, 1020 N. Howard. Literary arts: June 8, 7 p.m., Auntie’s Bookstore, second floor, 420 W. Main. For more information, contact the Spokane Arts Commission at 625-6050.