It’s been an emotional 24 hours for KEXP. Yesterday, the public radio station learned that it may not be getting the nearly $2 million it had expected from the state legislature to help fund its "New Home" project—the $15 million endeavor to renovate the Seattle Center and move the beloved local music broadcaster over there by the end of this year. Today, the station rallied listeners to e-mail senators asking them to reinstate the funding. By this afternoon, they won a partial victory. The state senate, thanks to an amendment from Democrat Karen Keiser (D-Kent), reintroduced $1 million into the budget for KEXP. But that's only a little more than half of what the station was counting on.
“The bottom line is we still have work to do to get the full funding,” says KEXP executive director Tom Mara. “At the same time, we’re happy with the progress that was made today.”
The funding is part of a program called Building for the Arts, in which arts organizations across the state apply for grants for their capital projects (meaning buildings, as opposed to programs) and are prioritized based on how needed and viable the projects are. Then, that list of qualifying projects—ranked in order of importance—is included in the governor’s capital budget. That budget is then sent to the legislature, where the senate—currently controlled by Republicans—and the house—currently controlled by Democrats—hash out what they actually want to pay for.
In this last round of BFA selections, KEXP’s New Home project was second on the list, with a recommended $1.866 million grant. So that amount was included in the governor’s budget and became the pot of money now ensnared in that house/senate hashing out process. In its capital budget released yesterday, the senate left out KEXP. (Then, today, Keiser's amendment got the station added back in, if only partially.)
It’s still not clear why Republicans removed the second-highest ranked arts project from the budget to begin with, though Seattle Democratic Rep. Reuven Carlyle chalks it up to typical "healthy competition" for funding. "As a general statement," Carlyle says, "Republicans are not going to include projects that are important to Democratic districts." I have a call in to Sen. Jim Honeyford, everyone’s favorite Republican, who heads up the writing of the senate’s capital budget.
Even at the full $1.866 million, the state funding is only a fraction of the total $15 million cost of KEXP's renovation. Other funding is coming from a patchwork of private donors, grants, and city and county money. (The station has raised $8.63 million on its own—mostly from individual donors—so far.) But, according to Mara, the state BFA grant is the big one—the largest single source of funding for the project. So, the station is counting on getting all of it. KEXP doesn’t have a choice about leaving its current home, which is being redeveloped, Mara says.
“The strategy we have built depends on these five sources of funds,” he says. “If that major piece doesn’t come in, that’s a critical issue in terms of being able to build out the full design. That’s going to be problematic.”
Want KEXP to get the money it needs? Write Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) at Jeanne.Kohl-Welles@leg.wa.gov, Andy Hill (R-Redmond) at Andy.Hill@leg.wa.gov, Karen Keiser (D-Kent) at Karen.Keiser@leg.wa.gov, and Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) at Jim.Honeyford@leg.wa.gov.