Music Community Backlash at Mayor
Despite Message of Inclusivity, Ed Murray Ignored Key Players and Fired a Popular Music Office Director
Sometimes being the boss means making tough choices—but one of Mayor Ed Murray's recent decisions has left local arts communities howling mad weeks later. And they're not staying quiet about it.
When it was announced in early February that the mayor had decided not to retain popular Office of Film + Music director James Keblas, the arts world was plunged into immediate outrage. Keblas, a longtime all-ages music advocate who cofounded the Vera Project, had spent nine years leading that office, winning the support of the arts community along the way. By easing film permits, integrating local music into tourism efforts, and tirelessly promoting local artists, he proved to the arts community that they had a champion in local government.
Now that trust has been shaken, and not just over a mayoral hiring decision, but because of the way it happened: without any interaction or consultation with key civic stakeholders. For a mayor who's so staked his agenda on holding community meetings, creating new task forces, and promising to hear out advisory commissions, this was a blunder that undermined a key part of Murray's promise when he ran for office.
And at a meeting on February 19, the Seattle Music Commission gave him that message loud and clear.
"It feels like [this news] was given to us with such disrespect," said music commission member and Sub Pop vice president Megan Jasper to Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim, who was in attendance (the mayor was not present). "Really, one of the most respectful things that could've happened was a conversation with the people who would be impacted," Jasper added. "And we are representative of that."
The commission, in political words Murray would be fond of, is an already convened committee of music community stakeholders—why not meet with them before making major changes?
"Especially," added Jasper, "when the support of the music community was used as leverage in the campaign. That's one of the most insulting parts of it."
Murray courted the music and nightlife communities during election time, "as does anyone running for office, whether council or mayor," pointed out commission member Ben London, a musician who also works on media rights at Hewlett-Packard. But asking for money and support during campaign season, then not consulting them on real issues, "shows a high level of disrespect," London continued. "It's important the mayor understands the significant impact that he's had with this decision [and] the trust-building that's going to have to happen to get us to want to support him at that level."
To be fair, Murray's choice of a new director is impeccable: Kate Becker, also an all-ages music advocate who spent decades working in the local music and arts scenes, is as universally beloved and respected as Keblas. Murray spokesman Jeff Reading says the mayor hired Becker over Keblas for the "same reason Pete Carroll drafted Russell Wilson when he had Matt Flynn—to take it to the next level." Reading says Becker will roll out a "positive and ambitious agenda for the nightlife, arts and culture, and film communities in the coming weeks" and that the mayor is "scheduling meetings with film community stakeholders and music community stakeholders for the week of March 17."
Which means he's starting off his term by playing catch-up with these communities, instead of in their good graces.