Imagine you serve on an arts commission – lets say, the Pierce County Arts Commission. The economy is so bad its not even fair to say “it’s in the toilet.” Rather, it would be more accurate to describe the economy as “in the outhouse.” Your annual budget has been cut beyond the bone so that what revenue you do receive goes exclusively to operating costs (rent, heating etc.). To make matters worse, legal restrictions on said commission make it almost impossible for you to improve the situation.
You serve as an adviser to the county and therefore can make only recommendations or – more often – sign off on the recommendations of Pierce County Employees.
You are unable to seek additional sources of revenue outside the county council (eliminating any hope of private sector support).
Suddenly, there is bright glint on the horizon. Could it be a change in the economy? A second NEA stimulus package that doesn’t give 50% of its money to Seattle and 50% to the state agencies in Olympia? No, its CULTURAL CONSULTANTS…
I know what you’re thinking. Why is the Pierce County Arts Commission wasting money hiring consultants when we could put that money to community use like strengthening Artist in Residency grants or mobilizing a bid to have Tacoma host the 2022 Summer Olympics? Well the truth is I can’t honestly explain fully why the decision was made to do this, except that the way the budget is structured (seemingly with railroad ties) we do not have the authority to shift funding from one division to the other. I can say, however, that my fellow commissioners and I were universally skeptical of this decision when it was first revealed to us, and promise to do our part to make sure the county gets its money’s worth out of this project.
Anyway, who are these consultants you might ask?
Marc Goldring, Associate Principal, WolfBrown
Claudia Bach, President, AdvisArts Consulting
Bonnie Berk, President, BERK and Associates
They’ve developed a three phase plan to combat cultural decay in Pierce County.
PHASE 1 (September – December)
Research and Community Engagement. Cultural Mapping and Data Mining.
PHASE 2 (December – January)
Analyze and Synthesize. Pitch critical issues report to a twenty person steering committee (which yours truly is not on). More Community Engagement and Integrate feedback into a “Cultural Needs Assessment Report.”
PHASE 3 (February-April)
Still more Community Engagement before finalizing plan via the steering committee before unveiling the final draft…..
If this at all sounds ambiguous, your not alone. Commissioner Beth Willis did a fine job of trying to nail down the consultants’ specific definitions of success and to present a mission statement, but it was clear that they had been hired to find solutions to problems that had yet to be fully articulated.
So we spent the rest of our last meeting offering “feedback” to our new friends. The question was, imagine that in 2012, Pierce County had a vibrant and growing cultural economy. What happened?
The following were my suggestions:
1) The Pierce County Arts Commission had an official website with content that was under the supervision of an assigned commissioner – not staff.
2) The Tacoma School District was no longer dependent on volunteers to provide arts education to its elementary and middle school populations.
3) Pierce County had somehow expanded the 1% for Art program to the private sector to include commercial real estate above a set assessed value. (Additionally, it would be nice it we could revise the 1% for art program to include improvement on existing structures rather than the one-time payment of newly constructed government building – of which relatively few exist.)
4) The county council had a 5:2 Democratic Majority.
Other members discussed the need to develop arts apprentice programs so students graduated with not only artistic interests and aptitudes but also vocational skills that could enable them to start earning money immediately.
You can join the discussion regarding what exactly Pierce County’s Artisistic Needs are by emailing your thoughts to the following emails
image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/spadgy/