skip navigation
Support KUOW

Culture Shock

sign posted on utility pole, blue head being struck by lightning, with words Danger High Voltage

View of the 1979 installation at City Light's Viewland/Hoffman Electrical Substation, the Seattle Arts Commission's first major integrated public art project. Photo courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Forty years ago, the city of Seattle was mired in the worst economic mess since the Great Depression. The Boeing bust left the city with 20 percent unemployment, plummeting real estate values and a pervasive sense of gloom. Not the perfect moment for politicians to decide to add art as a basic city service, according to many observers. Nevertheless, in 1971 Mayor Wes Uhlman established the Seattle Arts Commission. There wasn't much money to fund it, but Mayor Uhlman appointed a who's who of Seattle power–brokers to lead the fledgling organization. As Seattle's finances improved, the Arts Commission's budget grew.

Over the next four decades Seattle, along with King County and Washington state, provided administrative support and millions of dollars in grant money to hundreds of artists and arts organizations, and they helped the region develop into an internationally–known arts center.

Flash forward to 2011. Washington state is still mired in the aftermath of the ongoing recession, and public officials have been forced to make major budget cuts in every sector, including arts and culture. At the same time private donors, individuals and corporations have had to cut back their charitable giving. Large, established arts organizations have struggled to maintain their programming, and many midsized groups have disappeared. For some the financial crisis is an opportunity to redefine the role of government in the arts. And to reimagine what it means to make art in the 21st century.

"Culture Shock" was reported and produced by Marcie Sillman and edited by Jim Gates.

Protestors at Boeing, Seattle, 1970, photo by Timothy Eagan. Seattle P–I Collection, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle.

Forty Years And Counting

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Seattle Arts Commission was established in 1971 during Seattle's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Forty years later the current financial crisis has leaders wondering how to continue to support the arts.

Listen to this story spacer 'The MITT,' Gerard Tsutakawa, 1999, bronze sculpture by Safeco Field, Seattle. Washington State Public Facilities District Collection. photo by Michael Myers.

On And Off The Dole

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The economy is slowly emerging from the great recession, but Washington state's financial outlook remains grim. What role can government play in advocating for culture at a time when most program budgets are being cut?

Listen to this story spacer

Proposal To Change Arts Agency Causes Concern

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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

Listen to this story spacer Storefront installation by Dan Reeder, September 2010, Pioneer Square. Part of the Storefronts Seattle program. Photo by Eliza S. Rankin.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Friday, February 18, 2011

A sluggish economy means hard times for the nonprofit sector, especially the arts. From downsizing, to social media, to new ways to curate shows, arts groups are in a process of rethinking business in order to survive.

Listen to this story spacer