An Open Letter to Washington State Legislators to Save 4Culture Arts Funding

Jesus H. Christ, what is the world coming to? Apparently arts funding in Washington state might get slashed by 90%. NINETY PERCENT. Why not just bomb the state to rubble? That would be more cost-effective, as you wouldn’t have to pay legislators’ salaries anymore either, and you’d have roughly the same effect on state income and national attractiveness.

Anyway, here’s my letter. Feel free to use it. It’s a bit more civil than what I wrote above.

Dear [representative],

First, thank you for representing us to the state of Washington.

I am writing to you because of distressing news about arts funding in our state. I am a theatre artist in Seattle, and I have been here for 5 years. I moved here specifically because I heard about Seattle’s thriving arts scene. Once I moved here, I discovered that all of Western Washington, and much of Eastern Washington, has a thriving arts and heritage scene. Not only does this area support native art, as well as productions of classic plays and music, but much of Washington state actively engages in creating brand new works of art. This state generates culture, and therefore is becoming one of the most important participants in our national and international cultural dialogue. If HB 1997 is not passed, if funding to the arts is cut by 90%, then this thriving state will no longer thrive. We will no longer shape United States culture; we will instead passively receive it from other parts of the country. Rather than dynamically generating new work, which puts us on the tourist map and makes Washington state a great place for artists to live and work (and pay taxes), we will become a provincial backwater. With less support for creation, artists will be forced to go elsewhere, tourists will lose interest. The state will lose even more revenue.

Allow me to elaborate. 4Culture supports theatres all over the state, large and small. Of the large theatres, 5th Avenue Theatre and Village Theatre have, in the past 10-20 years, sent several shows to Broadway, including Next to Normal (a locally-written piece which started at Village Theatre, ran on Broadway, won several Tony awards, and is now back at the 5th Avenue). By successfully workshopping new musicals and then sending the shows to Broadway, these two theatres have put Washington state on the map as one of the most important creators of nationally successful shows – surpassing even Washington, DC in recent years. Since I work for the 5th Avenue Theatre, I know for a fact that their success has brought money from Dreamworks and Disney to this state, which goes to support living wages for local theatre artists, which in turn feeds into tax revenue for the state through various personal taxes like sales tax. Without help from the state, these theatres would not have been able to garner so much attention, and will not be able to continue to do so. Everyone suffers.

Of the “small” theatres that 4Culture supports, many have become locally famous, and several have been nationally and internationally successful. These theatres include the UMO Ensemble, the Satori Group, Annex Theatre, A Contemporary Theatre (which produces its own work AND has dedicated itself to co-producing successful shows workshopped by smaller theatres – Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which was first produced at Balagan Theatre, is a great example), Nebunele Theatre, and On the Boards, among many, many more. The complete list of current institutional funding is here: http://www.4culture.org/arts/sustained/11_awards.htm

Without 4Culture, the arts scene in Washington state will crumble. It will not disappear and it will not die, but it will suffer for years, and Washington state and its residents will suffer with it. This state will not draw as many new residents looking to make Washington their permanent home. Tourist revenue will suffer.

I know that this is a recession, and tough choices have to be made. But the value of the arts is beyond vague statements that it is “good for you,” and it is beyond ticket sales or income or other financial value placed on it by a capitalist culture. The arts have a long-term impact on how the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, sees us. Without them, we cease to exist, except for the fact that we happen to house Boeing (which is rapidly changing), and Microsoft. Do we want this state to be known only for major industries that just happen to currently reside here? Or do we want to make this state as attractive as possible to a wider variety of future residents and visitors?

Thank you very much for your time.

To send a letter, ANY letter, to your rep, look ’em up here: District Finder

And keep up with 4Culture Advocacy here: Advocate4Culture.org

Seriously, this is a tough recession, but that doesn’t mean we should destroy everything that makes us human — ie businesses that reach out to support the community. What happens when we have no community left? Anarchy or something worse. I can’t really imagine a world like that. It would be dangerous, to be sure. Without our humanity, what are we?

I hope the ghost of Franklin D. Roosevelt haunts these people.

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