A SLI maneuver: Navigating the City budget for parks and arts



The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center was the subject of a SLI for the 2012 budget.

Let me state the obvious — Council’s 8-week review of the city’s proposed budget is a busy time. The city’s budget is about $4B. The General Subfund is roughly $950M. City Council is presented the proposed budget in late September, in this case September 24th to be exact, and we spend the next seven or eight weeks, scouring through the proposed changes. The phrase “sipping from a fire hose” comes to mind.

There are times when it feels overwhelming (lots of information and asks) and there are times when it feels underwhelming (we really tinker around the edges). But there are tools we can use to make the budget process  powerful. Creating and adopting a Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI) is one such example.

The potential evaporation of almost all the funding for one of Parks’s programs, which made live performances from people like Marian Anderson, was cause for concern.

Last year at about this time, during budget, my office was tracking a number of issues, including the expiration of the Admission Tax (for DPR) and Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center. In 2010, an agreement was reached that transferred 25% of Admission Tax revenue from the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs to Parks for 2011 and 2012. In 2012, $645,907 in Admission Tax revenue went to LHPAC, out of the performing arts center’s total operating budget of $716,787.This agreement was slated to expire on December 31, 2012.

The potential evaporation of almost all the funding for one of Parks’s programs was cause for concern.

So, we added a statement of legislative intent (SLI) to the 2012 budget — (that’s SLI 81-1-A-1 149 for those of you who like to dig into details — asking the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation to submit a plan that detailed future funding options for its three arts-related programs: Downtown Arts in Parks, Outdoor Neighborhood Parks, and Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center (LHPAC).

Our hope was to make all programs, not just LHPAC, more sustainable and financially sound.

Here is a PDF of the SLI response, which Parks gave us in committee in July. As you can see, we talked about some difficult issues, including the one at the heart of the problem, which was whether producing ‘commercial grade’ performing arts is really a core business of Parks, and what the loss would be to the community if Parks ceased that function.

Some of the options we considered included:

  • Expanding the use of LHPAC while relying on current levels of City funding, and expanding its use with reduced funding. This would begin with the creation of a fundraising Board of Directors.
  • Contracting with a non-city organization such as One Reel, which produces Bumbershoot, or Seattle Theater Group, which manages the Moore, Paramount, and Neptune Theaters, or an entrepreneurial enterprise such as manages the Broadway Performance Hall, to operate Langston Hughes.
  • Selling or leasing the space to an established performing arts organization.
  • Pulling Parks-funded programming from it and keeping it only as a rental space, which would cut positions for managing the theatre and its technical facilities.

The health of LHPAC was important, which is why we called it out during last year’s budget process. We’re pleased to see the Mayor’s acknowledging the importance of LHPAC and continuing the good work set forth because of the SLI with his plan to transfer the management of the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center from Parks to the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, a move that’s been getting some approving publicity lately.

I’m glad that we initiated this much-needed conversation last year and am very grateful to Mayor Mike McGinn for recognizing the importance of this work and tackling in his proposed 2013 budget. I look forward to seeing many more wonderful productions in the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center in years to come.

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