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New coalition aims to elevate the arts

Spokane Arts Fund formed to take over work of city Arts Department

Spokane’s arts community appears ready to accept a new plan to salvage what’s left of the city of Spokane’s Arts Department.

Politicians, artists and other leaders formally announced on Monday a new coalition to promote the arts in Spokane and look after the city’s 230-piece collection.

Spokane Mayor David Condon’s proposal to eliminate the city’s Arts Department earlier this year caused a minor uproar among Spokane artists concerned that the city was abandoning three decades of supporting public art.

Funding has been slipping for the past 10 years.

City Council President Ben Stuckart fought the proposal and worked with Condon to create a coalition of agencies tasked with invigorating a nonprofit group to perform the same function. City leaders say the city has committed to give the group $100,000 next year, $80,000 in 2014 and $60,000 in 2015.

The city now spends about $160,000 on its Arts Department each year.

The Arts Department has been a frequent target during budget cuts. Former Mayor Mary Verner recommended its elimation last year.

Layoffs in 2004 shrunk the department to one employee, Director Karen Mobley.

“If it’s sustained, it’s better than having to worry about it year after year,” said Melissa Cole, an artist whose work adorns the Spokane Convention Center. “I hope we are moving upwards and onwards and not disregarding the arts.”

Mobley has been selected as the Spokane Arts Fund’s interim director. Stuckart suggested that Mobley, who has led the Arts Department for 15 years, is a favorite to get the job on a permanent basis.

The change will turn over the city’s arts functions to the Spokane Arts Fund, a little-known nonprofit wing of the city’s Spokane Arts Commission. Spokane Public Facilities District and Downtown Spokane Partnership have each pledged $25,000 annually to the effort and Visit Spokane, the organization formerly known the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, will give $30,000 of in-kind donations and provide the group with new office space.

Forrest Rodgers, director of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, said the inclusion of more groups, particularly ones interested in promoting Spokane to tourists, should bring attention to the arts in a community that doesn’t recognize how vibrant the arts scene already is.

“It means there are now more advocates for the arts, not just one talented and energetic professional,” Rodgers said. “This is an exciting opportunity for Spokane to elevate the arts as part of an economic development strategy.”

The board of the Spokane Arts Fund will transition to membership that mirrors the commission to one with members representing the contributing organization and city leaders.

The Arts Commission will have two members on the board.

The Arts Commission, which is appointed by City Council will remain in operation and will turn its focus from advising the Arts Department to advising the Arts Fund.

Kevin Twohig, who leads the facilities district, said the district is committed to contributing to the group on an annual basis.

“For us, it fits directly into our goal, which is to establish our convention center as a site where there are substantial pieces of art,” Twohig said.

Officials said other organizations as well as Spokane County are being approached to contribute to the new group.

“Certainly the arts community is wary and concerned that the city continue to show financial support for the arts,” said Brooke Kiener, chairwoman of the Spokane Arts Commission.

“We do feel that there are opportunities for new areas of financial support.”



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