Cultural Access Bill

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At the end of 2012, I blogged about the Cultural Access Fund and that I was asking the City to add to its state lobbying agenda support for creating a regional Cultural Access Fund. Fast forward to today.

In the current legislative session, a Cultural Access bill supported by the City of Seattle and proposed by Cultural Access Washington, has been introduced: SB 6151 sponsored by Senator Andy Hill and cosponsored by Senators Fraser, Litzow, Kohl-Welles, Angel, Nelson, Chase, Pedersen, and Frockt.

A companion bill introduced in the House, HB 2212, appears unlikely to advance. It was sponsored by Representative Springer and cosponsored by Representatives Haler, Lytton, Habib, Tartleton, Appleton, Fitzgibbon, Roberts, Senn, Bergquist, Carlyle, Walkinshaw, Wylie, and Pollet.violinist_with_mic

SB 6151 empowers a county to create a cultural access authority by resolution of the county’s legislative body for the purpose of supporting cultural organizations representing the arts, science and heritage. Those organizations can encompass zoos, aquariums, museums, heritage sites, and the performing arts.

The boundaries of the authority may be coextensive with the county or may encompass only portions of the county. In addition, contiguous counties may create an authority by entering into an interlocal agreement.

In King County, the money would go to repaying the program’s start-up funds; 1.25 percent for total administrative costs; 10 percent for a public school cultural access program; 75 percent to nonprofit regional cultural organizations based on average annual revenues of at least $1.25 million for the prior three years; and the remaining funds to public agencies designated by the County to fund grants to community-based organizations.

science demoThe community-based funds could be used more broadly than funds provided to regional organizations. Funds for community-based cultural organizations could be used to fund organizations and activities, such as start-up and ongoing funding for new cultural organizations, such as new historic heritage sites, museums, or community theaters as well as capital expenditures or acquisitions of technology, equipment and supplies. The bills also require any cultural access district formed anywhere in the State to dedicate a priority portion of its revenues to public school access to cultural experiences.

In King County, approximately $47 million total annual funds are estimated to be available: about $32 million for regional organizations, $9 million for community based organizations, $4.6 million for public school access, and $1.4 million for administration.

Each of the proposed bills call for either a sales tax increase of up to 0.1% or a property tax that would generate a similar amount. A county can either have its legislative body adopt the measure or it could place it on ballot for county-wide voter approval. No state vote would be needed.

Some arts advocates have expressed to me their observations on this bill. For instance, it does not appear to prioritize comprehensive standards-based education in arts, history and sciences. Instead, it supports “public school access.”

Some believe there is proportionately less funding for community-based cultural organizations (budgets below $1.25 million) than there is for large organizations. Nevertheless, community-based cultural organizations would be eligible for much more funding than is currently available.

It’s unclear if Cultural Access funds will be available to service organizations such as Artist Trust and Theatre Puget Sound.

seattle-woodland-park-zooAlthough SB 6151 includes language stating that funds cannot supplant local and County organizational funding, there is no such language for the State, which could negatively impact the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA), the State’s Building for the Arts program, the Washington State Historical Society, and the Museum of Arts & Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society.

Colorado’s successful Scientific Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), first approved in 1988, and consistently re-authorized by voters ever since, distributes $40 million annually within its 7-county region.

5 organizations receive approximately 65% of the funding. A few years later, Colorado State cut most of the funding for its state arts agency.

Arts advocates’ observations aside, the significance of SB 6151 should not be underestimated. It would provide for the first time a dedicated State-wide funding source for some of our most valuable non-profit cultural organizations and institutions and the many services and activities they provide to their communities.

Click here to read the letter of support I sent to State Senator Andy Hill, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 6151. My Council colleagues also signed the letter, which was copied to a number of other legislators, as well.

You can read the Cultural Access bill here. I encourage you to contact legislators to express your support for it.

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