Politics & Government

City’s long-term arts vision could create new arts and cultural office

Young artists from Tacoma dream of going places with their creations

The Hilltop Artists summer program gives Tacoma children a creative outlet and to find their voice, even as they watch master glass blowers in the Hot Shop of the Museum of Glass Friday, July 29, 2016.
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The Hilltop Artists summer program gives Tacoma children a creative outlet and to find their voice, even as they watch master glass blowers in the Hot Shop of the Museum of Glass Friday, July 29, 2016.

In a city, Rachel Cardwell says, the arts often are thought of as the frosting on the cake: the sweet and alluring, but ultimately nonessential, topping.

Cardwell, vice chairwoman of the Tacoma Arts Commission, wants to change that metaphor — she thinks the arts are more substantial than that.

“It’s a shift from thinking of the arts as kind of the frosting for our city, something you can add at the end to make it pretty and maybe something conversely you could scrape off if you need to,” Cardwell recently told the City Council.

She was helping introduce ArtFull Tacoma, a new arts and cultural plan that seeks to inject art into every neighborhood of the city and promote the arts whole also boosting the economy.

“What this plan does is reposition the arts as sort of the creamy filling,” she said, “and what we’ve been working toward doing is identifying those ways in which the arts can bring together the layers of our city.” .

The new blueprint, a nearly 100-page document focusing on five strategies that touch every corner of Tacoma, was adopted by the City Council last month as part of the comprehensive plan known as Tacoma 2025.

Built on existing arts programs and projects, it will serve as a guide for prioritizing future funding, said Amy McBride, the city’s arts administrator.

At present, no additional funding is tied to the plan, McBride said.

It’s a shift from thinking of the arts as kind of the frosting for our city, something you can add at the end to make it pretty and maybe something conversely you could scrape off if you need to

Rachel Cardwell, vice chairwoman, Tacoma Arts Commission

The strategies in the plan are meant to help grow the city’s economy by promoting its creative builders and makers and creating spaces forart in every neighborhood, she said.

Among its aims is to create a new office, which would be called the Office of Arts and Cultural Vitality, as a focal point for art in Tacoma. McBride sees the office as a place where artists, arts organizations and neighborhoods can go for information and resources.

“We need a full-time public art specialist position whether or not we have an office called something — that just needs to happen,” McBride said.

A request in the 2017-18 budget asks for $160,000 — $80,000 a year, including salary and benefits, about half of which would be paid for by outside sources — for that full-time position.

Currently, the city has an annual contract for $60,000 for someone to provide those services, she said, but it would make an impact to move that position in-house.

“I’m particularly excited about how we really do promote Tacoma as a center for the arts,” she said. “It’s definitely becoming known as that.” But she wants to make the impact stronger.

The new plan has five strategies:

▪ Growing and sustaining the creative economy.

▪ Promoting equity, diversity and inclusiveness through the arts.

▪ Using public art to create active, accessible and welcoming public places.

▪ Strengthening Tacoma’s creative ecosystem.

▪ Optimizing performance and capacity of arts programming, services and operations.

It’s good thinkers with good ideas that create business and create destinations and do the things that make cities vibrant and exciting and interesting

Amy McBride, Tacoma arts administrator

Since the last city arts plan was created in 1993, Tacoma’s reputation for arts and culture has bloomed. This year, it was named one of Etsy’s 13 designated Maker Cities, and was the only city in the state to be recognized for its artsy culture by the online marketplace that specializes in handmade goods.

McBride said Tacoma’s industrial roots and its groundswell of artists, from glass blowers to furniture makers, can work together to strengthen the city’s creative economy.

The arts don’t just make the city pretty, McBride said: There are tangible economic benefits that come from promoting a robust arts culture

A busy event schedule dotted with festivals, street performances and live music, as well as public art on display across the city, has the effect of luring people — and businesses, McBride said.

“It’s good thinkers with good ideas that create business and create destinations and do the things that make cities vibrant and exciting and interesting,” she said.

“I’m walking around my village, getting to enjoy these things and see that band perform and go to this festival and experience different cultures in my own backyard, and that strengthens the community as that art center and that art destination, which attracts people and brings money to town.”

Another important piece of the plan is making sure art is equitably distributed across all corners of the city, McBride said.

Tacoma has “art deserts,” she said — places where there is no public art or little local programming, including the Tacoma Mall neighborhood. Fixing that means making public art and arts programming available not just downtown, but everywhere.

Projects are cropping up in areas where public art was previously hard to find, she said, and partnerships have been formed and improved — such as the one with Metro Parks — to improve public art and increase the number of places it can be found.

McBride said she is applying for grants to support more training to help artists gain experience in community engagement and public art so they can begin infiltrating art-poor neighborhoods.

We’re just seeing more and more opportunities ... Our city is doing some really cool things around the arts

Kate Albert Ward, deputy director, Hilltop Artists

The plan seeks to expand neighborhood places to experience art affordably, making things like museums more accessible. Another goal is giving children at least five arts and cultural experience before age 5.

“You want people to feel welcome in a space, and sometimes larger institutions don’t feel welcoming if you haven’t had any experience there — if your parents have never been to a museum, your friends don’t go to museums, you might not feel like you belong until somebody says, ‘I really want you there, this is for you,’ ” said Kate Albert Ward, deputy director of Hilltop Artists, a nonprofit arts organization that teaches glass blowing to kids.

In the 22 years since Hilltop Artists began, “We’re just seeing more and more opportunities,” she said. “Our city is doing some really cool things around the arts.”

There are still challenges in arts access, Ward pointed out: Lack of public transportation is a big one that keeps students without their own car —or with working parents who can’t drive them around — from getting to arts and cultural opportunities.

At a presentation of the ArtFull Tacoma plan to the City Council, Mayor Marilyn Strickland took a stab at the cake metaphor: In her view, the arts is the baking powder that makes a city rise.

“As we talk about the type of art that goes into neighborhoods, we can’t restrict low-income and underserved communities with just murals,” Strickland said. “So as we think about how we distribute different types of art, we want to make sure there’s equity in the different types of art we choose in neighborhoods.”

The City Council voted unanimously last week to adopt the art plan as an “implementation tool” for the city’s comprehensive plan. The vote was a resolution, not an ordinance, and no money was allocated.

Councilman Joe Lonergan cautioned that the city might not be able to implement all parts of the plan because of budgetary restrictions — Tacoma faces a projected $6.7 million budget deficit over the next two years.

“This is a plan that represents a lot of work, and I think ... it involves some blue-sky thinking,” Lonergan said. While the city moves forward, he cautioned, “there are some ideas in here that are not ready for prime time.”

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud

This is the first art plan created for the city since 1993, and it represents five strategies: Growing and sustaining the creative economy; promoting equity, diversity and inclusiveness through the arts; using public art to create active, accessible and welcoming public places; strengthening Tacoma’s creative ecosystem; and optimizing performance and capacity of arts programming, services and operations.

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