King County Council adopts $782 million arts and culture levy

King County Council adopts $782 million arts and culture levy

Levy aims to increase access to science, heritage and the arts.

On Dec. 5, the King County Council approved a new levy that will provide nearly $800 million in planned funding for access to science, heritage and the arts in King County over the next seven years.

The Doors Open Science, Heritage and Arts Levy will fund equitable access, support programming in public schools, and increase tourism and revenue and feed the workforce to the arts and culture sector through a 0.1% sales tax.

“The overwhelming support from the Council speaks to the legislation’s statewide benefits and strong focus on equity,” said Council Member Jeanne Cole-Wells, the lead sponsor of the measure. “It will live up to its name by ensuring that new start-up organizations receive seed funding opportunities to open their doors, and that more than 500 arts, science and heritage organizations have the resources they need to keep their doors open.”

Co-sponsored by Council Members Claudia Balducci and Sarah Perry, the Doors Open program is part of a more than decade-long effort to ensure stability and growth in the cultural sector. He arrives following the dramatic economic impact the pandemic has had on the arts and culture community.

At an average annual cost of $40 per family, the county reports the levy will help the arts and culture community not only recover from pandemic layoffs and closings — especially in marginalized or disadvantaged communities — but also thrive to new levels with more funding than has ever been spent through public programs in King County.

By comparison, 4Culture, the designated funding agency for Doors Open, had expenditures of approximately $16 million in 2021. The measure builds on similar successful initiatives adopted locally in Tacoma and nationally in Denver, Colorado.

“Our arts, heritage and science organizations create improved learning outcomes, provide access to good jobs and help us grow a stronger economy and healthier communities,” Balducci said. “Doors Open will give people in every corner of King County more opportunities to explore and experience the arts and culture that enrich all of our lives.”

A full 15 percent of Doors Open costs will go to students in public schools where arts and music programs are being cut to balance budgets. Annually, that’s at least $12 million to support partnerships, field trips, before and after school programs, transportation and admission costs, internships, free or discounted ticket programs, and more.

According to the county, funding through the program will be dedicated to geographic equity, supporting communities most hurt and isolated by the pandemic and its ongoing impacts, while providing new funding to grow additional cultural centers in King County.

“This bill’s focus on geographic equity is so important to organizations like ours. Here in Auburn, our community impact is as important and deserving of support as larger budget organizations in urban areas. The passage of this legislation affirms the role we play and the impact we have. We are grateful and hopeful for the future,” said Rachel Perry, executive director of the Auburn Symphony Orchestra.

Businesses rely on arts and culture organizations to drive tourism and revenue. The arts and culture sector accounts for 10.8% of the state’s gross domestic product, approximately $72.8 billion. The county says Doors Open spending will provide a direct return on investment for the local economy.

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