1. Late last month, the 16-member citizen group appointed by the mayor and city council to advise the city on arts issues, the Seattle Arts Commission, sent a dramatic letter to Mayor Ed Murray; in the wake of the tragic fire that killed 36 people at a DIY arts venue in Oakland, California in early December, the letter flagged the vulnerable status of the arts community here in Seattle as skyrocketing rents force arts groups and artists into fringe spaces.
Arguing that the choice between safety and affordability isn't a choice when you don't have the money (stop blaming the victim), the letter posited that stern safety codes where venues are simply deemed either "safe" or "unsafe" (with accompanying fines or even eviction) will push DIY artists further into the shadows. The letter, which was signed by mainstream arts leaders (and commission members) such as SAM’s Priya Frank, Wing Luke’s Cassie Chin, ACT’s Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi, and Seattle Theater Group’s Vivian Phillips, said the city and the fire department should work with arts groups to iteratively help them comply instead of pursuing a policy of “adversarial enforcement.”
The mayor’s office has yet to respond to the letter—or to my calls for a response—but the city council’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee has invited members of the arts commission to present to council this Tuesday.
Prior to the arts commission presentation at tomorrow’s committee meeting, the city’s own office of arts and culture will be at the table to present findings from its cultural space inventory and stability index. The index tracks the number of arts spaces around the city and tries to gauge how secure groups feel. The arts office’s racial and social justice initiative radar seems to be on high alert with data showing that minority arts groups report feeling less stable and that African American arts groups, as opposed to all other groups, do not own a single arts space in town—and only rent.
This awareness of race as a factor in the stability of arts groups syncs up with the focus of the arts commission letter which stated:
We hold ourselves and our public servants accountable to the City’s own Race and Social Justice Initiative. In a city that struggles to resolve a housing and homelessness crisis in the midst of a massive construction and population boom, and where many low-income people and spaces have already been displaced, responses to public and individual safety must be driven by a commitment to support and nurture all of our neighbors. Hasty evictions come at the expense of the most vulnerable, whether or not they are artists. Historic precedent shows that abrupt building vacancies have ripple effects throughout their neighborhoods, with some areas unable to recover decades later.
And offered as its first recommendation:
All who are in a position to affect precarious spaces, including the City, public officials, code compliance enforcement, fire safety enforcement, law enforcement, real estate developers, and individual building owners and landlords, should activate the RSJI Toolkit to analyze and guide all enforcement plans and determine if the impacts of venue closure and code enforcement would disproportionately affect communities of color, low-income communities, LGBTQI+ communities, and youth. The results will determine solutions that support making our buildings and spaces safer while also remaining, or becoming, affordable and accessible.
Mayor Murray did, in fact, respond to the Seattle Arts Commission, writing in a December 30 email to the commissioners that he's told the inspections department, the fire Marshall, and the office of arts and culture to review the arts commission's recommendations.
The city currently uses its "Code Compliance Team," a conglomerations of relevant departments including the city attorney's office, the police department, SDOT, the fire Marshall, the department of construction and inspection, King County health, and the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board among others, to work with venues on a complaint basis to make sure spaces are up to code. There's also a city-staffed group called the "Joint Emphasis Team" which uses data and stats about assaults, noise, and over-service, to "proactively address regulatory issues for nightlife businesses in Seattle through education and training on industry best practices, business assistance and collaboration with owners," according to a city description.
While not directly addressing the Arts Commission's bold recommendation, Murray's letter said:
It is the duty of the City to ensure the public safety of all of our residents, and our public safety officials respond when they receive complaints directly from the community. When we receive these complaints, the City invests time to educate venue operators and owners to help them become code compliant. We do this cognizant of the fact that we have to achieve public safety while preserving affordable, accessible places for our arts and music communities to congregate. I strongly believe community engagement is one of the best ways we can keep the public safe.
2. Like with all Seattle city council races, it's likely voters are going to have a bevy of lefties to choose from. Tenants' rights advocate Jon Grant has already announced he's running for Position Eight, one of the two at-large city council seats; longtime incumbent Tim Burgess is not running for reelection in the spot.
Now Fizz hears that Teresa Mosqueda, the political and strategic campaign director at the Washington State Labor Council, is likely to announce she's running as well. If labor gets behind Mosqueda (count on it), Grant's lock on the social justice community will be diminished. Mosqueda has also worked as an Olympia lobbyist for the Children's Alliance.
Mosqueda, who's Latina, may not be the only women of color in the race if she gets in, though. I've also heard that Urban League leader Pamela Banks, who ran against District Three (Capitol Hill) council member Kshama Sawant in 2015, may jump in.