Staffing Cultural Development & Volunteer Park

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Included in the 2013-2014 City budget my colleagues and I finalized today are two staffing issues I fought for. One is the retention, though unfunded, of a full time gardener position in 2013 for the Volunteer Park Conservatory. The other establishes a new arts & cultural development liaison position in the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.

The Gardener

The Volunteer Park Conservatory, named in honor of volunteers who served in the Spanish American War, offers 6,800 square feet of display space and has an annual budget of about $420,000. Due to the Conservatory’s unique structure and plant collections, it has no direct competitors in the conservatory market.

The Mayor proposed cutting one full-time gardener position at the Conservatory as a cost cutting measure benefitting the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR). Although DPR’s budget does have to accommodate reductions, I consider this particular cut to be premature.

DPR hired a consultant – EMD Consulting Group, LLC – to study and recommend options for increasing earned revenues and making the Conservatory more self sufficient. Implementing a $4 entry fee and cutting one of the 4.5 gardener positions are among their recommendations.

It strikes me as risky to cut the gardener just when the Conservatory will be gearing up for their East Wing & Greenhouse capital campaign and replacing their suggested $3 donation with a $4 entry fee. Even the consultant noted this cut risks displays suffering, attendance dropping, and that DPR might need to consider re-staffing the position. And I agree.

Drawing new visitors with exemplary displays would seem more challenging without their current gardening staff. If the Conservatory’s now-splendid displays were to suffer from fewer hands tending them, which could result in resentment over their new required entry fee, visits will surely drop.

Unfortunately, I was not able to convince my colleagues to retain funding for this position. I was able to preserve the position, though unfunded, until we can assess next year whether display quality has been compromised and whether new revenues generated by the Conservatory can restore the gardener in late 2013.

The Arts Liaison

The other staffing issue I was finally able to garner support for is the arts & cultural development liaison position in the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs (OACA). Back in 2009 a group I and Councilmember Clark assembled, called the Cultural Overlay District Advisory Committee (CODAC), recommended establishing this position. Council resolution 31155 accepts all of CODAC’s recommendations.

The purpose of the position is to advise City departments, community organizations, other government & cultural agencies, and developers on matters of the arts in general and on developing space for cultural organizations and creative workers in particular. The development of cultural and arts space supports a non-profit arts & culture industry in Seattle that generated in 2010 over $447,000,000 in economic activity and over $38,000,000 in local and state government revenues.

Nevertheless, the past few years of declining revenues and budget cuts have provided little motivation for my colleagues to act on this CODAC recommendation. This year’s budget was the first since 2009 offering enough revenue to add new positions. Although this is only a half-time position for 2013 and 2014, establishing it allows OACA’s director to expand it if demand for services proves great enough. By the way, OACA’s director once served as co-chair for CODAC.

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