When the mayor's race began, neither candidate had an arts platform. The city was forced to speculate about what Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn were thinking. How would they deal with music clubs and noise complaints? Would they give the city's arts offices more muscle? Did they understand that bolstering a city's culture attracts thinkers and businesses, makes money, and improves life overall?
"No, they didn't," says David Brown, executive director of Pacific Northwest Ballet (which just won a Stranger Genius Award). "Culture was conspicuously absent from the early conversations." So the culture constituency began making noise, publicly and privately, arguing that it mattered and could leverage money and votes (like the city's 21,000 professional arts workers). They asked that cultural stewardship get a seat at the table.
The candidates responded: McGinn released a five-point culture platform in late September, and Mallahan released his four-point plan last week. "Eventually," Brown says, "they told us what we wanted to hear."
The Mallahan plan: 1. Support the city's Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs (OACA) and the Office of Film + Music (refuting a wave of negative press after Mallahan—allegedly—suggested cutting OACA). 2. Deal with the noise wars between residential developers and the preexisting nightclubs they're building around. 3. Replace the viaduct with a traffic tunnel to, uh, prevent traffic jams (an irrelevant potshot at McGinn's transportation platform). 4. Involve artists in designing infrastructure projects; push for incentives and zoning amendments so developers will preserve/build arts spaces along with their condos.
The McGinn plan: 1. Protect the OACA budget and lift it when the economy permits. 2. Increase arts investment from the city, including targeted capital infusions. 3. Designate cultural districts and push incentives for developers to preserve/build arts spaces. (More specifically, support recommendations from the Cultural Overlay District Advisory Committee, or CODAC, a group of arts and housing folks from Liz Dunn to Michael Seiwerath to Pat Graney—people worth listening to.) 4. Include arts and music education in Families and Education Levy proposals. 5. Do more research. That sounds boring, but we don't fully understand how arts funding improves the city's life and economy. The more we know, the better the policy.
Their platforms are similar, but McGinn's is more grounded and specific, and it shows familiarity with the work the culture constituency has already done. And it doesn't mention the tunnel, though Mallahan is now adopting that albatross as his own. (My own viaduct proposal: If and when it goes, keep a portion for open-air concerts—sitting up top at sunset would be fantastic.)
The fact that the candidates launched these platforms at all shows they're paying attention. That alone is a small victory.