Screenshot of the mayoral arts forum via Mark Van Streefkerk.

Seattle’s Mayoral Candidates Talk About Post-Pandemic Arts Recovery at Arts Forum

by Mark Van Streefkerk 

On Thursday, eight of Seattle’s mayoral candidates shared their plans for reviving the city’s arts communities at an Arts Forum at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. All the candidates agreed that arts and culture recovery is a necessary component in the city’s overall post-pandemic healing, but each had a different idea of how to go about it. 

The forum was closed to the public but live streamed through the Seattle City of Literature Facebook page, where you can still watch the entire forum

The event was moderated by Vivian Phillips, an arts producer, marketer, and civic advocate, and Marcie Sillman, an award-winning radio journalist. Both moderators also co-host the podcast DoubleXposure. Phillips and Sillman asked the candidates questions about increasing city affordability for artists, funding for arts institutions and individuals, the role of the Cultural Space Agency, and more about reviving a sector that was hit hard by pandemic closures and restrictions. Read on to learn about each candidate’s ideas for revitalizing Seattle’s diverse art spaces and communities. 

Colleen Echohawk 

A former executive director of the Chief Seattle Club, Colleen Echohawk articulated a plan for arts recovery that also included remedies for houselessness, a strategy from her work with ?ál?al, an affordable housing project for the homeless Indigenous community, and Native Works. Echohawk said that these programs provided wages, training, mentorships, and housing for underhoused Indigenous people. 

“I’m honored to build housing alongside and with the homeless Native community,” she said. “I believe in the healing power of art … I created a program called Native Works where artists who are experiencing homelessness can get a minimum wage. We sell [their] art at Smithsonian stores, we sell it at Pike Place Market, we sell it all over the city.” 

Echohawk drew a clear connection between arts funding and creating opportunities for living wages and housing. She is also in favor of exploring a Basic Income for artists, explaining that the investment means greater economic gain overall. “We know that for every dollar spent on the arts, three dollars goes back to the neighborhood,” she said. “We have opportunities for healing that can only come from the arts.” 

If elected, Echohawk would launch the Hope Corps, a New Deal-type arts recovery program introduced last year but stalled by City leadership at the time. She is also excited to explore the full promise of the Cultural Space Agency, a program that combats displacement of BIPOC and artists by acquiring property for arts spaces. 

Read more about Echohawk in her interview with the Emerald

Art Langlie, Lance Randall, Andrew Grant Houston, and Bruce Harrell at the Arts Forum on Thursday, June 22. (Screenshot via Mark Van Streefkerk.)

Andrew Grant Houston

Architect Andrew Grant Houston emphasized the need for affordable, rent-controlled housing and commercial spaces 一 the sooner the better. This would provide an increased stability for artists, he reasoned. Focusing especially on mixed-use affordable housing would generate more arts opportunities as well.

“One of my plans is to invest $100 million into our Equitable Development Initiative, along with $10 million into the Cultural Space Agency … strategic acquisition is the fastest way to permanently bring affordable housing into the city,” he said. 

Houston was the only candidate to bring up divesting funds specifically from Seattle Police. He advocated for progressive taxation and is in favor of launching a universal basic income pilot program and raising the minimum wage to $23 by 2025. 

Houston’s main priority is building new systems that will address Seattle’s climate crisis. The city has 10 years to reduce its carbon emissions by half, he said — something that’s not going to be achieved by incrementalism.

For more about Houston’s proposed policies, check out his Emerald interview

Jessyn Farrell

Former state legislator Jessyn Farrell has a perspective on creating a greener economy that includes investing in arts funding. “As we transition to a green economy, we need to think of art as part of that economy. The creation of art is inherently low-carbon,” she explained. “We need to be looking at funding arts spaces and arts programs as part of that.” 

Arts also have the ability to act as a container for community healing. Farrell is excited about exploring combining arts programming with youth education as a way to reduce gun violence. She has experience with scaling up policy through her previous work on transit and economic recovery projects. When it comes to making the city affordable for artists, Farrell is in favor of big investments in affordable social housing, portable benefits packages, and using portions of carbon fees to help fund a living wage for artists. 

Learn more about her experience with policy-building in her Emerald interview

Lance Randall

Former executive director of SEED Seattle Lance Randall talked about increasing opportunities for both public and private companies to invest in the arts. When the City comes up short, he suggests asking companies for help. They will be incentivized to make donations because it’s a tax write off. 

Randall shared his experience of working with artist Moses Sun as an instance of both public and private arts opportunities. Randall helped Sun secure a mural opportunity in Columbia City, and the artist also went on to produce works for Facebook and Starbucks. 

“I’m the best candidate for the arts community because I am an artist. I’m a musician and … I’ve worked with the arts community for quite some time and I understand what they need,” he said. “It’s important that we recognize [the arts] as a viable sector.” 

Find out more about Randall in his Emerald Q&A

Bruce Harrell 

Bruce Harrell is a former Seattle City Council president and chairman of the Royal Esquire Club, which he helped revitalize. Despite his declaration that “We have an abundance of resources … we are a successful city and let’s act like it,” Harrell didn’t necessarily offer much in the way of new insights to the conversation. 

Art saved his life, Harrell claimed, and yet when it came to the question of why he would be a good candidate for the arts community, he said, “I don’t know if I am the best candidate … but I’ll work the hardest.” 

Colleen Echohawk, James Donaldson, Jessyn Farrell, and Don L. Rivers at the Arts Forum on Thursday, June 22. (Screenshot via Mark Van Streefkerk.)

James Donaldson

Former Seattle SuperSonics player James Donaldson said, “I’d be the best mayor to support our arts and culture because … sports is art and culture.” 

Don L. Rivers 

Don L. Rivers is a pastor and King County Metro worker for over 32 years. He claimed he would be the best candidate for the arts because of his proximity to Motown legends. Rivers said that if elected as mayor he would approach supporting the arts based on his idea of the “3 L’s” — Listening, Learning, and Leading. 

Art Langlie

Langlie is the vice president of an electrical contractor company and grandson of a former Seattle mayor and Washington governor. He seemed to be the most fiscally conservative of the candidates, mentioning on more than one occasion that the City’s resources are limited. “We’ve been spending a lot of money every year on the homeless problem,” he said. “Until we get that under control, those dollars are taken away from things like the arts.” 

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s Arts, Culture, & Community editor. He often writes about restaurants, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter at @VanStreefkerk.

📸 Featured Image: Screenshot of the mayoral arts forum via Mark Van Streefkerk.

Before you move on to the next story …
The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. 
If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. 
We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!