Back in January six King County Council members shocked members of the arts and culture community by proposing an ordinance allowing the council to take control of 4Culture, an independent Public Development Authority (PDA) that annually distributes millions of dollars in grants to artists and cultural institutions.
But at the Meeting of the Whole committee tomorrow, Council Member Jeanne Kohl-Welles will introduce a motion that would create a task force designed to address issues of funds distribution and oversight that other council members raised in the original ordinance, and also address the concerns that artists and cultural organizes raised at the public hearing back in February.
The original measure allows the council to hire/fire 4Culture's executive director, directly appoint board members when they leave, and veto the organization's annual budget. A striking amendment introduced by Councilman Dave Upthegrove would remove the council's ability to fire the ED, but keep all other powers. Upthegrove says he wants to increase transparency (Eds note: not that it's lacking) and help 4Culture "continue to make better progress around geographic distribution." Opponents of the bill say the process 4Culture uses to distribute money to individuals and organizations is already equitable, and say there's no reason to unnecessarily politicize their process.
"What I decided to do is introduce this motion so that we can do what should have been done in the first place, which is to work with the arts, culture, heritage communities on what we can do to make the process work for all parties," Kohl-Welles told me over the phone.
That task force would review the "cultural infrastructure across King County, the accessibility of arts, cultural and heritage programming and the structure and practices of 4Culture" and then "report its recommendations to the council."
This motion would make any changes to 4Culture's governing structure a product of "dialogue and working together," Kohl-Welles says, allowing for "consideration and deliberation with all the parties around 4Culture."
"I don’t see rushing through this legislation be a benefit," Kohl-Welles says. "I’ve not received one positive e-mail or communication about this proposed ordinance."
In a statement, Jim Kelly, outgoing executive director at 4Culture says "the idea of a task force should have preceded the intro of the ordinance in order to identify the problem the ordinance seeks to solves. Since no new money will flow to 4Culture in 2021, it makes sense to use this time to determine how best to make arts and culture more equitably available to residents across the county."
Either the original ordinance, some amended version of it, or Kohl-Welles's motion will make it through committee tomorrow. Assuming some action is taken, the council will likely move to vote on whatever comes out of committee on March 26th. Kohl-Welles says she's hopeful she can make her case to some members on the council, but says "two or three are digging in more."