Pittard has had to resort to “emergency fundraising” many times in recent years. When debt started piling up and the rent didn’t seem feasible, Pittard would ask her social media community to pitch in via Venmo, PayPal or Cash App.
Living in Seattle as a full-time musician has been difficult for the past decade, Pittard says, and they don’t know how long they can hold out. They point to musician friends who went into tech or real estate to pay the bills, others who left with the promise of more music gigs in New York or New Orleans. “It’s becoming more of a question: Would I have to leave my profession and my body of work to stay here, or would I have to leave to continue to continue my body of work?”
A newly published report says Puget Sound’s arts and culture sector could take a hit in the next few years, as arts and culture workers — especially younger workers — consider leaving the sector or the region.
Through a survey conducted last spring, the Puget Sound Regional Council (an association of local governments and state agencies that contribute to the future growth, transportation and economic development of the region) gathered input from 299 people who work in the arts and culture. Some were artists, curators and independent performers, others worked in ticketing or local non-profit administration, and many had second jobs to pay the bills.
Around a third of respondents indicated they were considering leaving the sector, and 4 in 10 respondents said they were considering a change of job or location within the next year. Younger respondents were more likely to be considering leaving the sector: 41% of respondents aged 25 to 34 said they were at least considering leaving in the next year. Among the main reasons: Wages in the sector are low, and the cost of living in the region is high – and increasing.
“It’s the rent. It is the cost of living. We can’t even survive WITH stable jobs,” said one survey respondent. “I’m about to be forced out because of high rents,” wrote another. One said: “It’s unfortunate.”
What would help? There are higher wages, more access to affordable housing, affordable benefits and student loan forgiveness, among other things, respondents say.
The survey is part of a larger “Arts and Culture Economic Recovery Strategy” report published today by the Puget Sound Regional Council. This is the first time that the PSRC has come out with a report and strategy focused on the creative economy. The Council felt it was necessary since the industry was hit so hard during the pandemic, says Jason Thibedeau, PSRC’s Economic Development Program manager. Another tip for this first-of-its-kind report: Arts and culture are public goods and economic incentives that attract people to the region and generate income in other sectors (such as tourism and restaurants).
Local arts and culture are part of what makes this a great place to live, Thibedeau says, but it’s often taken for granted that they aren’t. “If we lose these advantages, these institutions and organizations, a region will not be in the same place as it was with them,” he says. “It will change the dynamic of who wants to continue to live here or who wants to move here.”
To stop the creative brain drain and improve the region’s creative economy, the report outlines a detailed matrix of solutions and strategies, ranging from the macro level (student loan cancellation, access to affordable housing) to smaller efforts that could be tried here or. to scale up, such as San Francisco’s guaranteed income pilot programs.
He also points to the anticipation of programs such as Seattle’s public-private Cultural Space Agency, which works to save cultural centers, and the city’s Seattle’s Hope Corps program, which puts creative people to work on public art projects, and the nonprofit Seattle Musicians Access program. to Sustainable Healthcare, which provides access to free and low-cost health services for income-qualified musicians and could be extended to other cultural workers. Thibedeau describes the strategy document as a “menu” of potential solutions that local governments, philanthropists, businesses and arts organizations could choose from.
“The report is very positive,” says Manny Cawaling of Inspire Washington, a statewide cultural advocacy organization. “Every aspect of the report was like: ‘Yeah, we heard that too.'” ‘Yeah, we heard that too’,” says Cawaling. “Artists, creative people, cultural workers are struggling to maintain their cultural careers in Washington state. … They struggle with affordability, they can’t find housing.”
According to PSRC data, the average compensation for a person working in the arts and culture in the Puget Sound area in 2021 was $52,400 (including benefits) — about half the regional average. That same year, a person would need to make $60,966 to pay rent for an average two-bedroom in the state and $76,240 in the Seattle-Bellevue area alone, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. According to HSH.com estimates, a family would need to make at least $120,000 per year to buy a home in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area in 2021.
Pittard, the klezmer musician, said she makes between $15,000 and $18,000 a year and can only afford to live in rented housing together. “Wages for musicians on the West Coast are so depressing,” she says. “My friends on the East Coast make three times what I make a gig.”
A performer from Guma’ Gela’, CHamoru Queer art collective, leads the crowd in the Electric Slide at the Indigiqueer Festival on Pier 62 on Saturday, June 25, 2022. (Amanda Snyder / Crosscut)
We can’t fully blame COVID-19 for the current dire situation in the arts, says PSRC’s Thibedeau. For too long, the sector has relied on inequitable funding structures and underpaid workers. Housing affordability and job instability have been a problem for many years, as have been the sector’s racial imbalances. “These have been fundamental challenges and issues for the industry for a long time,” says Thibedeau. The pandemic didn’t help. “Now things, like many things, are more challenging, more difficult.”
With employment in the arts and entertainment sector still low, as well as inflation and rising housing costs, the sector could be closer to the edge of the cliff. Although there is no single path, the report lays out a bridge to the other side.
Building that bridge, according to PSRC, will require a concerted effort from governments, nonprofits, businesses and philanthropists—and a variety of possible building blocks.
The list of a few dozen proposed solutions includes everything from the more simple and concrete solutions (adjusting noise ordinances so that musicians can play in public spaces later in the evening; easing childcare costs for parents of artists; expanding statewide Olympia and Tacoma cultural access programs). ) for the more ambitious (“engage the larger business community to support arts and culture,” “develop a sustainable business model for arts and culture”); workers, like a union).
While the report emphasizes that higher wages and access to affordable housing and benefits are critical, it is reluctant to specifically endorse or call out more systemic solutions, such as building such housing.
“Our consultants recognized in doing this work that the region’s housing challenges are clearly a driving factor in how the arts and culture community can operate,” says Thibedeau. “But this [report] is not a strategy to address housing,” he says, adding that PSRC is currently working on a regional housing strategy.
Affordable housing and education would have made a big difference for fiber and performance artist Cybele León, who saw no other choice but to move from Seattle to Bellingham during the pandemic. Bellingham’s “biggest draw was cheap access to aerial and dance training, and family housing,” says León, referring to the affordable option of renting part of her grandparents’ house. León plans to go back to school for marketing and UX design this fall—something else she wouldn’t have been able to afford in Seattle, she says. León’s experience is consistent with what survey respondents indicated could help: not just affordable housing, but also career support, training and help with student loans.
The PSRC report also recommends piloting a guaranteed income program for creative workers, citing a San Francisco program that paid $1,000 monthly stipends to 130 artists and cultural workers, with the money coming from private and public funds ( similar programs are running on a pilot basis in New York and St. Paul, as well as Ireland).
While artists and arts workers may benefit from local pilot programs, there are currently no local basic income programs specifically designed for creatives. Nate Omdal, vice president and organizer at the Seattle Musicians Guild, is trying to get traction with his idea for a small basic income program for musicians — but it’s hard to get support from elected officials.
“I can show hundreds of people saying ‘this is a good thing,’” says Omdal, “but for some reason, that’s not a request. So I’m struggling internally, trying to figure out: What do the decision-makers in this region really need before they start to feel that something is serious?”
Omdal says the clock is ticking. “I fear for the future of commerce in Seattle,” he says.
Artist Emily Counts works on a sculpture at the “XO Seattle” exhibit at the Forest for the Trees art show, which spread across an empty office tower during the 2022 Seattle Art Fair. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)
Another pressing issue that the report aims to address is the lack of rehearsal and performance space. Among the proposed solutions: Transform empty and underutilized spaces, such as ground floor retail, warehouses, parking lots, green space, malls, libraries and churches, into art spaces.
That seems logical, but it often requires jumping through many hoops, says artist Janet Galore, who with her partner Demi Raven opened the art space The Grocery Studios in a former corner grocery store Beacon Hill in 2016. Because the building was designated “commercial” by the city, the couple had to get a commercial loan, which meant jumping through hoops that are “very challenging and don’t fit cultural space needs,” which Galore says. “It forces you to be a bureaucratic conqueror.”
Getting permission from the city of Seattle was an additional hurdle. “It feels like municipal policies, processes, and commercial leasing conventions are optimized for for-profit commercial developers only,” says Galore. “Even in the case of short-term rentals of vacant spaces, I know several people who have tried to rent for an art exhibit or studio, and never got a call back from the leasing agent or the landlord.”
The report notes that local jurisdictions can support the creation of larger art spaces through zoning changes and by ensuring that artistic and cultural activities are allowed to “use” commercial space on the ground floor.
Although not noted in the report, this is something the city of Seattle has done with Seattle Restored. The private-public program builds on legislation that facilitates the use of commercial spaces in certain parts of the city for short-term artistic and other purposes and matches small business owners, artists and entrepreneurs with vacant commercial storefronts. After the first run last spring and summer, the program will now be expanded to an additional 45 vacant properties across the city.
However successful, programs like this do not solve one of the major issues the report identifies for the arts sector: The current business model — the Sisyphean pursuit of scarce resources at the expense of making and presenting art — is just not enough. with inequality. It is broken.
What the sector needs, the report states, is meaningful state funding. But “Washington State historically provides a low level of support for the arts,” the report says. “In terms of per capita spending on state arts agencies, Washington ranks 46th in the nation,” with $0.34 spent per person in fiscal year 2022. (By contrast, Washington ranks ninth for artists as a share of labour. )
Although the State Legislature appropriated $45 million in grants to businesses and organizations in the arts, heritage and science sectors this year, those dollars represent one-time recovery funding, “not an ongoing financial commitment from the State,” says the report.
But the strategies outlined in this report are: strategies. There are no mandates, restrictions or requirements. Still, says Cawaling of Inspire Washington, the report can be helpful in providing a blueprint for an exit. Especially now, as advocates fear a “funding blow” and the sector’s recovery stagnates. The priority, he says, is sustainable funding.
“Between now and the end of the year, every major government – federal government, county government, city government – will be approving their budgets for the next year or two,” Cawaling says, adding that Washington state will be discussing his budget. from January to May 2023. “So this is a time when we need to talk about money.”