On Aug. 9, Mayor James West presented a proposal to the Spokane City Council for revising the 2004 city budget in order to address a deficit of $6 million. The proposed budget cuts 28 positions and programs such as School Resource Officers, Neighborhood Planning, Fire Operations, Risk Management and the Youth Department, as well as the Spokane Arts Commission.
As Chair of the Arts Commission and Chair of the Arts Fund, we are particularly concerned about the loss of two staff positions and operating funds. Like the other affected City programs, the Arts Commission has met to create a work plan that keeps key programs in place, looks for community partners to assist with others, and determines which programs we must relinquish.
Many people in the community are blaming the mayor or City Council and are campaigning to have funds for their pet programs reinstated. However easy and convenient this may be, we believe it is time for us, the citizens of Spokane, to acknowledge our responsibility for this crisis and begin to work together to make needed changes.
"The real enemy," says Robert Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, "is fuzzy thinking on the part of good, intelligent, vital people and their failure to lead. ... Too many settle for being critics and experts."
City revenues have been flat these past few years, due in part to the economic slump, but also due to citizen initiatives that have eroded the tax base. Conversely, our demand for services has surged. There seems to be an understanding that "someone" (not me) will be paying these bills. And we have not been active players in what John Gardner, former chair of the National Civic League, calls "the noble, aggravating chore of self-government."
It is time -- past time, but not too late -- to stop being "me" and become "we." It is time to come together to create the kind of community we keep saying we want. Doing so will involve some risks and some sacrifices -- trusting one another, working for the common good and dropping that personal agenda, allowing for healthy controversy, and yes, even taxing ourselves.
So what is that vision for the kind of community Spokane could and should be? The Arts Commission sees a city with rich resources. It's a city with plentiful public art, ranging from Harold Balazs' many sculptures to David Govedare's "The Joy of Running Together"; a city whose youth have access to everything from flute lessons to skateboard parks; a city whose creative vibrancy both draws and retains an innovative, enterprising work force (as described by Richard Florida); a city that is a regional arts magnet for cultural tourists (who are well-known to spend more per capita than other tourists); a city where citizens and visitors have access to an up-to-date arts calendar (www.spokanearts.org) that informs and excites them about the possibilities of a play, a concert, a dance, or a gallery; and a city in which the arts have a powerful economic impact. (The city of Spokane's and Spokane Regional Chamber's 2002 Economic Impact of the Arts survey noted that the annual direct contribution of the arts to the Spokane economy is nearly $19 million; the indirect contribution is close to $55 million. The number of FTEs in the arts is 320 -- about the number of employees at Itron or Tidyman's.)
Poet Wendell Berry says that building this kind of community must be "accomplished mainly by the community itself. It would have to be done, not from the outside by the instruction of visiting experts, but from the inside by the ancient rule of neighborliness, by the love of precious things, and by the wish to be at home." This is everyone's business.
What You Can Do
Yes, we believe there is a role for city government in creating a great city and a thriving arts community. But government funding will never float the whole boat. Here's what you can do:
1. Attend an arts event. Give tickets to events as gifts.
2. Do your elected officials know the arts are important to you? Are candidates arts supporters?
3. Look at the budget holistically -- what does this mean for all the citizens of Spokane?
4. Attend City Council meetings this fall and express your opinions at the hearings on the 2005 budget.
5. Contribute in-kind materials and office supplies to the Spokane Arts Commission or donate your skills. Call 625-6050.
6. Write a check to the Spokane Arts Fund (the Spokane Arts Commission's 501(c)3 arm): Spokane Arts Commission, 808 W Spokane Falls Blvd, Spokane 99201.
7. Take your responsibilities as a citizen to heart. Consider ballot tax questions carefully. How will a proposal harm or help the city we love?