Sound & Vision: Seattle City Council Candidates on the Creative Economy

Sound and Vision
Emily Fox

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.

A recent City of Seattle report about the city’s creative economy found that the median hourly wages for artists and musicians is less than $12 an hour. The minimum wage in the city will be $13.50 starting in 2020. With Seattle City Council elections taking place on November 5 – Sound & Vision host Emily Fox asked all the candidates about their thoughts on how to provide opportunities for affordable housing and higher wages for artists and musicians in the city. 

District 1 (West Seattle, South Park)

Phil Tavel (attorney and former video game developer):

First, I spent eight years in the video game industry, and one of the cool things is artists and musicians have an opportunity to earn a lot more money in those industries. And so finding ways to partner them up with social media, with online games, with apps, with new video games – these are great opportunities because a lot of artists don't think about that side of it. And the other thing is that you can also do, I think, a lot more public artworks. That's something I'd really like to see Seattle expand on. I know in West Seattle and South Park, we've been working on our mural project and restoring these 12, 13 murals that kind of have gone into being a little too worn down over the years – so, bringing artists out and paying them for that. And as far as allowing them to be able live, we just have we have to have more of the live-work spaces like Equinox down in Georgetown. I'd like to see something like that done in South Park and just find ways to support them because we need them in our community. 

Lisa Herbold (City Council Member since 2015):

I actually chair the council committee with oversight of arts issues, so I actually heard the Creative Economies Report in my committee and you’re right, a lot of folks aren't making very much money in the creative economy. But others are and that's one of the things that that report showed – is that there's a lot of inequity within the creative economy. Even though creative economies in Seattle contribute to about 18% of our growth and our wealth, and that's fantastic compared to other cities, there's still a lot of disparity among incomes. And so, I'm really excited to be working with the new Office of Economic Development Director Bobby Lee in developing a creative economy sector and that we're really focusing on making sure that there's benefits to all in Seattle across economies.

District 2 (Southeast Seattle, Georgetown) 

Tammy Morales (Rainier Beach community organizer):

When it comes to wages, part of the challenge for artists and musicians is that very often this is something they have to do on the side. I think we need to make sure we are supporting their actual art better so that they don't have to rely on just doing this part time. Part of the challenge is the affordability issue. And so, we need to invest more in creating affordable cultural space. Preserving not just housing that is affordable for artists, but making sure they have affordable workspace, affordable rehearsal or performance space. Part of what we're trying to do on our campaign, part of our strategy, is to democratize access to resources. And for us, what that means is increasing access to land, especially for artists and workers, through things like commercial tenant ownership, shared ownership opportunities, and what I want to do in my work as a council member is to explore what those shared ownership opportunities might look like.

Mark Solomon (Longtime crime-prevention coordinator with the Seattle Police Department): 

One way we can support our artists and musicians is through public art projects. I've seen in my district where we have a number of murals that have come up on some of our businesses and they've activated those spaces. And thinking of the Rainier Beach community, where we have this open space right next to the Rainier Beach Community Center, that can be a community gathering space for musicians, for artists. So, I would want to increase those opportunities for those visual artists and those performing artists to be active in the community and have activity generating possibilities in terms of affordability. We need to build more housing, more affordable housing for those who are not making a livable wage in the city. We do have a housing shortage. We have a housing crisis. And we need to address that using every means we can.

District 3 (Central Seattle)

Kshama Sawant (Seattle City Council Member since 2013):

The report that showed the living standards of artists and others in our district, and in the city, who are really struggling to make ends meet is very important. And, I think that is why the progressive victories like $15 minimum wage have been very important, because it has lifted the wages of all workers together. However, the conditions that the artists are facing is also a reminder that we need, as Shaun Scott of District 4 is calling for, we need a Freelancers Bill of Rights. We also need a massive effort to help art workers unionize. That's why I was proud to support the Frye Art Museum security officers form their union, which is in our district. I've also been strongly supportive, my office has been strongly supportive, of the musician’s union who have done incredible work to highlight the needs of artists. But, at the same time, we need citywide policies of rent control and social housing to address the housing crisis that artists are also caught up in. 

Egan Orion (executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. He also manages PrideFest Seattle Center and PrideFest Capitol Hill):

Yeah. This is why it's critical that we have artists spaces when we're building new developments. In fact, I'm a musician myself and my guitar teacher lives in one of those artist lofts that's downtown. These are great spaces. This is one critical way that we can support artists. Another thing, and it may be a small thing for folks, but when we have a parking that is required to be paid street parking until 10 p.m. at night, this really impacts artists of all sorts – whether they work in the theater or they're gigging as musicians. And so, we need to be really thoughtful at city council when we’re creating policies, that we make sure that we're not impacting the arts – either the people that go to shows or the artists that are putting on the shows. As someone who's worked in the creative economy for 25 years, all these are very important issues to me and something I'll fight for on council. 

District 4 (Northeast Seattle) 

Alex Pedersen (most recently a manager at a company that helps to preserve affordable housing. He previously worked for former Councilmember Tim Burgess):

I think the important thing is to make sure there is plenty of space throughout the city for artists. We've seen a lot of displacement of artists and art organizations because of the high cost of commercial building rent. And so, in District 4, we have some buildings that are really special for the arts and we need to make sure we expand that space so that they have jobs and opportunities to sell their art and to live that career to its fullest. So, we have the U Heights building, we've got the Good Shepherd Center, we have Magnuson Park – Magnuson Park is a huge resource, but not enough for artists. So, artists occupy only about 10% of that space. It's really dominated by athletic fields. So, I think we need to start to re prioritize and lift up the arts and use our infrastructure to do that.

Shaun Scott (writer and an organizer with the Democratic Socialists of America):

Well, the question is what we're going to do to raise wages and the standard of living for members of our creative community. As a candidate in Seattle City Council District 4, I've tried to champion a Freelancers Bill of Rights because so many members of our arts community, whether or not they're freelancers or tech workers or musicians, we get stiffed on wages and it happens a lot. So, we want to see mandatory contracts between employers and employees. Mandatory net 30 invoices so that if you're a freelancer, you can get paid by a client after 30 days. We want to see a freedom from retaliation ordinance put in place so tha,t if you exercise any of these rights, you don't see your contract get canceled. And we want to see a ban on non-compete clauses that restrict worker mobility for a lot of people in our creative community. I have been a freelance filmmaker, been a journalist, been an artist in the city, worked with Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, so I want to make sure that we're doing what it takes to protect all.

District 5 (North Seattle) 

Debora Juarez (Seattle City Council Member since 2015)

What I think, what I see and what we know in the city – you have to have, obviously, the art. You have to have accessibility. You have to have an affordable city for all kinds of artists and musicians and anyone who makes their living being creative. My husband is a professional glass artist, so I understand what it means and what it takes to actually carve a living out of being an artist and also balancing the business side, paying the bills. Since I've been on city council, one thing that I can point… I can point to many things, but one thing I'm particularly proud of is what we did when we crafted and negotiated the Seattle Center Arena with OVG and NHL. We wanted the arts to be accessible, not only to the whole city, in the county, in the region, we wanted it to be for the youth as well. So, we secured $3.5 million in arts and investment in the Key Arena remodel, $10 million going to the community fund, going to youth care and other art programs. 

Ann Davison Sattler (attorney who once worked for the Seattle SuperSonics)

As far as the funding for local arts, I think it's critical for musicians in particular to know I'm an amateur musician myself, as being a first year piano major in college. And the current council member for D5 was an integral part of the negotiation for hockey to arrive in Seattle. And, in that negotiation, which she claims she did herself, was given a waiver to the corporation from not paying the 5% admissions tax that is upwards of $10 million a year, which is supposed to be going to support local arts. So, that is a huge avenue for where we could provide grants and opportunities for growth for musicians and other artists. And that's a critical piece of the public needs to be made aware of – that that was done to bypass funding for the arts. I think that's critical for KEXP listeners and those who create the music we all enjoy. As far as affordability, I think we need to really focus on making sure we have a variety of housing options and some of that needs to be dorm style and smaller studio, a lot of countries in Europe are doing good work with that, we need to model it as well. 

The summary of the Key Arena agreement between the city and Oak View Group (OVG) can be found here.

District 6 (Northwest Seattle) 

Dan Strauss (Worked for Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility and state Sen. David Frockt):

Artists and musicians make up such an important fabric of our community. We need to make sure that they have jobs that pay the minimum wage and higher than the minimum wage, no one should be working for less than the minimum wage – and that's just a baseline stop, period. Throughout my campaign, I have talked about everyone needing to be able to only work one job for eight hours a day, get the leave that they need, access to affordable child care and the medical benefits that they need to have a good quality of life in our community. I have been very clear that everyone needs to be able to have a good quality of life in our community, whether you've lived here for one year or for 40. We need to build a sustainable, affordable and equitable future for our city. And so that means artists need to have access to good day jobs, whether that's in film and music or in the arts, because we know artists need to be able to have day jobs that support their financial, health care and their passions. 

Heidi Wills (Council member from 1999 to 2003):

So, I've knocked on 25,000 doors with my campaign in District 6, and this issue comes up frequently. Our community has changed considerably, especially over the last decade. And a number of music venues have left our community, particularly in Ballard but also in Fremont. And there are a few that remain like the Connor Byrne, for example, on Ballard Avenue. And they've had to change how they do things, right? But they are employing artists and musicians in our community and they're really concerned about changing demographics and if they will be able to remain in business. So, I think that a key to this is ensuring that we have the venues in our community and that we also have affordable housing for musicians and artists. We need to ensure that we have housing available for people, of all incomes, incorporated into new developments, particularly one to one replacements for low income units.

District 7 (Pioneer Square to Magnolia)

Jim Pugel (a former Seattle interim police chief. He most recently served as chief deputy in the King County Sheriff's Office): 

The first thing I’d do is look at the 1% for the arts, where 1% of the fees that come out of construction fees goes to support arts. This is a wage disparity issue. Artists and everyone else deserve and have the right to live in the communities where they work and where they serve everyone else. I think we also need to be very thankful, this 7th District that we’re all hoping to represent you in, is the most culturally art rich district in the nation with the aquarium, the 5th Avenue Theater, Benaroya Hall the 42 art organizations just here in Uptown—the Gates Foundation, we have the private sector money right now that is funding a lot of it, but it could do more as well. So, I would do a public private partnership, make sure that we are paying the right wages by increasing the 1% for the arts to 2% for the arts, let’s double down and also support housing for those in art lofts. 

Andrew Lewis (prosecutor in the Seattle City Attorney’s Office. He previously worked for former Councilmember Sally Clark): 

First, we need to increase the demand. Living here in Uptown, we’re surrounded by a bunch of great institutions of art. I go to the Seattle Rep on a regular basis, go to the Seattle Opera and that’s part of the fabric of the city. I’m a prosecutor, I believe in the social contract. And in a city where we can’t just be defined by what we can’t do, but what you can do – and there’s definitely a public interest in making sure those art institutions are accessible to the people of Seattle. There was a county wide measure a couple of years ago where we discussed, on a regional basis, making a commitment to make that access a reality, we didn’t approve it last time. Something like that should warrant our consideration. Again, the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture gives out grants to a lot of these organizations. I think we should leverage that and say, look, you want a grant from the Office of Arts and Culture, then your employees are employees, they are not independent contractors and they are subject to the minimum wage in this.

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