The 2013 Americans for the Arts Convention

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Last week, my legislative aide Frank Video attended the Americans for the Arts (AftA) annual convention. This year it was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

One reason the meeting was hosted by Pittsburgh is that city’s enthusiastic support for the arts. They have a vibrant cultural district, managed by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which raises approximately $8m to $10m annually of which only about $850,000 comes from public sources. Over 2 million people visit the 14-block District every year. To date, its invested about $280m in the district, mostly from private funds. The Trust owns the properties occupied by the disctrict’s arts groups, allowing for affordable spaces for artists and arts organizations to do business.

Arts DistrictFrank’s notes from conference sessions and his conversations with attendees at the AftA convention will inform legislation I am now working on to establish Seattle’s first official cultural district. I also plan on holding public meetings to help shape the legislation. My legislation is in response to recommendations the Council received from the Cultural Overlay District Advisory Committee. Establishing a cultural district was their top recommendation out of the six they delivered.

The AftA conference topic I was most interested in was titled “Arts, Entertainment & Cultural Districts.” Included were sessions on States and Cultural Districts (state-level formation of cultural districts); An Artists View (how artists work within districts & utilize their incentives); Programming Districts; and Developing Facilities & Housing in Districts. Frank participated in An Artists View and Developing Facilities & Housing.

The key note presenter for Arts, Entertainment & Cultural Districts session was Mark Davy, with Futurecity, out of London. He noted that in London, the private market seems to have convinced developers that culture is valuable, that including art in one’s development helps shape a geographic area in such a way that it significantly markets the area, thereby driving up occupancy.  

Other presenters discussed incentives their arts & cultural districts employ,  such as exempting artists’ incomes from taxes, purchasing properties and renting them back to artists below market rate, “smart” building codes that encourage renovation of older buildings for arts uses combined with low or no interest renovation loans, and including artists in a city’s tourism marketing programs.

Stay tuned as I advance this initiative over the next few months and feel free to send me your suggestions for which neighbohood you think should be designated Seattle’s first offical arts district.

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