The city is covering two months rent for one of Pacific Northwest Ballets buildings.
The city is covering two months rent for one of Pacific Northwest Ballet's buildings. ANGELA STERLING

On Friday Mayor Jenny Durkan's office announced that some rent relief is coming to some arts organizations and businesses in some parts of Seattle.

In a press release, which I gently re-heat for your gratification here, nonprofit arts organizations and private businesses who rent city-owned facilities (e.g. in parks and at the Seattle Center) will get a break on "the equivalent of two months" of rent.

The city will forgive two months of rent for arts orgs, "including Seattle Children’s Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Cascade Bicycle Club." Rent will be deferred for businesses "including Arena Sports, Marination Station, and vendors in the Armory."

All told, the city estimates the $400,000 relief effort will help "90 arts and cultural nonprofits, small businesses, and artist studios."

For context, according to SpaceLab NW, a database of arts spaces in King County, Seattle has 834 "cultural spaces." The site lists renter/owner information for less than half (400) of those spaces. In that group, a little over half (108) of the nonprofits are renters, while over two-thirds (147) of the for-profit orgs rent.

In a statement, Seattle Children’s Theatre managing director Kevin Malgesini said the rent forgiveness will help them "retain more staff, keeping more people employed, offering some peace of mind and giving teams the opportunity to focus on reimagining the presentation and delivery of our programs."

Pacific Northwest Ballet executive director Ellen Walker called the rent freeze "a meaningful measure of support." But in an illustration of how large the need is with some of these larger orgs, Walker mentioned PNB's continued rental expenses at the Francia Russell Center on the east side (which houses their school), their scene shop and warehouse in Georgetown, and the performance space at McCaw Hall, where they're a resident along with Seattle Opera.

The news comes as multiple private institutions and public officials attempt to plug holes in the rapidly floundering ship of Seattle arts institutions that are losing money fast, canceling entire seasons left and right, and making last-ditch efforts to pivot to video. On Wednesday Seattle dumped $500,000 into private funds for artists and launched a $1 million stabilization fund for arts orgs. That day 4Culture also announced a new $1 million fund for "cultural organizations and practitioners affected by COVID-19 closures and cancellations."

On the private funding side, today ArtsFund announced its COVID-19 Arts Emergency Relief Fund, which will provide $1.5 million in grants to King County arts organizations who had to shutter to flatten the curve. That money will fund operations. Meanwhile, Artist Trust also launched a $292,000 fund for Washington State artists to help pay bills and lost wages.

All told, so far, that's about $4.8 million in patchwork grants and rent relief going directly to artists or arts organizations that may be, collectively, in Seattle alone, seeing losses of up to $3 million every week they're closed. If you're not currently collecting unemployment and want to help out, clink on the links to Artist Trust and ArtsFund donation pages above and donate away, patrons!

Without some massive influx of federal funding, right now it's still unclear which organizations will survive and what will be left of them. Josef Krebs, co-owner of the arts consulting firm Scandiuzzi Krebs, said, "This is going to be a long, new way of living. We’re going to need spiritual and artistic sustenance, and the arts and artists have the ability to provide that. Looking for opportunities to deliver value is the best way arts orgs will be able to succeed. It’s not about their need, it’s about what they can deliver to others.”

Across the country and right here in Seattle, the immediate answer to that question seems to lie in streaming new performances or re-broadcasting old performances, but it seems like there's more room for creativity.