Spokane leaders more-than tripled spending on the arts on Monday after hearing many impassioned pleas from local artists.
The Spokane City Council voted 6-1 to earmark a portion of its existing admissions tax for the arts.
“Art and the creative class are not something nice,” Council President Ben Stuckart said. “It is necessary. And if we want to be a city that matters, we need to be a city that values our arts and culture.”
Stuckart presented the ordinance, which reallocates a third of the tax the city charges for admission to events, such as movies, sporting events, concerts and art shows. The ordinance will increase art funding from $80,000 to about $250,000 per year. The tax raises about $765,000 annually, which goes into the city’s general fund.
Supporters of the ordinance, most wearing orange shirts showing support for Spokane Arts, packed into the council chambers. Many spoke publically about the impact art has on their lives.
“Spokane is a compassionate and collaborative city, but there are limits to collaboration when resources are scarce,” Spokane Arts Executive Director Laura Becker said. “There is a certain sense of fatigue that pops up when we are working under the lens of austerity.”
Spokane Arts is a nonprofit organization created in 2012 when city leaders dismantled the city’s art department. It is a joint effort between the Spokane Arts Fund and the Spokane Arts Commission and receives money from the city, Downtown Spokane Partnership and Visit Spokane.
Stuckart emphasized that the reallocation is neither a new tax nor an increase. He said the diversion of money from the city budget to arts will have a negligible effect on other programs.
Councilman Mike Fagan cast the lone opposing vote.
“Believe it or not, I too share the title of being an artist on several different fronts,” he said in reference to his time as a touring musician and a conservative talk show host. “We tend to want the nice things before we take care of the necessary things.”
Fagan argued that poverty and infrastructure, particularly roads, should be addressed ahead of art funding.
Most who testified, however, emphasized the importance art has to them and the influence it can have on a city. Among those who testified in favor were author Sharma Shields and Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall. Business representatives also supported the ordinance.
“You have incredible and strong bipartisan support both from the business community and at large,” said Mark Richard, the president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
Others highlighted the “brain drain” that can occur when a city does not have a vibrant art scene. Mariah McKay, a local activist, spent several minutes reading a list of her friends and associates who left Spokane because they did not think the city could support their artistic ambitions.
Luke Baumgarten, a co-founder of Terrain, also emphasized the economic impact a well-funded arts community can have on a city, comparing Spokane to other similar-size cities with larger arts budgets.
“If all people wanted were tax breaks and cheap office space, Post Falls would be Silicon Valley,” he said.
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