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Proposal To Change Arts Agency Causes Concern

Marcie Sillman

A new Legislative proposal would consolidate state cultural activities into a single super agency: the Department of Heritage, Arts and Culture. KUOW's Marcie Sillman reports.


The idea of a cultural uber agency took at least some arts insiders by surprise. Kris Tucker is director of the Washington State Arts Commission. She says she wasn't consulted before the Senate measure was unveiled last week.

Tucker: "From my read, it looks like the intention is to save some money, and also to offer some collaboration opportunity and perhaps some political protection for these small, but arguably very important agencies and efforts of the state."

Late last year, Governor Chris Gregoire proposed major cuts to the State Arts Commission budget. She also wants to eliminate the independent commission itself and the citizen panel that oversees it. Under the governor's plan, arts activities would be folded into the Department of Commerce. Governor Gregoire also wants to close two state history museums and move heritage and historic preservation programs into the Department of Natural Resources.

The new Senate bill envisions something different. It would create an umbrella agency: the Department of Heritage, Arts and Culture. The cabinet level entity would oversee everything from the State Library and Archives to the Tourism Bureau. State Arts Commission Director Kris Tucker says she has lots of questions about how the new super agency would work.

Tucker: "This new department would be led by the State Historic Preservation Officer. That is a regulatory responsibility, so you would have somebody in a regulatory position — basically, an enforcement position — that also would have the responsibility of directing a new agency. And I think that is pretty complicated and possibly problematic."

Given the severity of the state budget crisis, Kris Tucker says she's glad to see lawmakers look for creative ways to preserve some of Washington's arts and heritage activities. She says leaders of all of these groups want to find new ways to collaborate. But she warns that until serious budget discussions get underway in Olympia next month, nobody will know if a super state cultural department can really pencil out.

I'm Marcie Sillman, KUOW News.

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