SAC prioritizes training in diversifying arts

By Danish Mehboob – Journalism Student at the University of Washington

The Seattle Arts Commission is keeping racial equity on the agenda as it teams up with the Office for Civil Rights to attend to the public interest in diversifying art culture.

One of the main topics discussed at the Seattle Arts Commission meeting on Oct. 14 was improving the diversity and racial equality in the Office of Arts and Culture, its entities and programs.

Irene Gomez, action spokesperson for the CityArtist Grant Approval, discussed the diversity in accepted grants saying that 11 of 39 applicants were of color with one Latino applicant, but no Native American applicants. Most applicants were Asian American. No specific reasons were given for the lack of diversity this year compared to applicants in the past.

SAC requested budget authorization from the Seattle City Council to use unreserved funding for furthering the Office of Arts’ equity work, which is there to create equal opportunity for artists of other ethnicities to receive funding.

The Seattle Arts Commission and CityArtist program are smaller entities of the Office of Arts and Culture.

  • Office of Art and Culture (Umbrella organization, all below work under Office of A&C)
  • Seattle Arts Commission
  • CityArtist

Additional funding would allow more artists of different backgrounds to take on projects. However, only $60,000 could be attained for the 2015-16 year according to Dianne Falchuk, a former commissioner and current deputy manager at the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. This budget will be used towards funding racial training and programs such as smART ventures and Youth Arts. Without more funding available, the Office of Arts and Culture won’t be able to open new galleries, programs, and provide individuals and organizations with grants to projects inclusive of sculpting and landscaping in the arts community.

Efforts are underway at the Office of Arts and Culture to address the priority of bringing new artists into the public’s eye.

The commissioners all voted in favor of racial training on Oct. 14 in an effort to build on prior talks of racial equity and diversity in the community. This training will be provided by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights and funded through the budget authorized by City Council.

Vivian Phillips, a commissioner and director of marketing and communication for Seattle Theater Group, asked some thought provoking questions on the matter.

“What are the differences in view of racial disparity within the arts community and discipline? How can we be accountable?,” said Phillips.

A few areas where diversity and equality are seeping into the public arts include the new commission for artwork on the waterfront representing the Salish American Community in honor of Indigenous People’s Day.

This is a $250,000 project that is to be expected soon in 2016. Office of Arts and Culture is calling for applicants to produce new art recognizing and reflecting the oldest way of life on this land and waterfront. Local artists from Washington and British Columbia are being encouraged to apply.

“The call is super open ended – it could be almost anything,” writes Calandra Childers, communication and outreach manager at Office of Arts and Culture, via email.

Another project that has received interest is the 20,000 linear feet of pink flags at the corner of Denny and Minor. The million flags, a temporary public art piece, is called ALL RISE, which has been well received by the public according Perri Howard, local artist and vice chair on SAC.

More changes are expected to be seen in the community as the Office of Arts and Culture continue to pursue this priority of diversifying the arts and completing their racial training.

Reach journalism student Danish Mehboob at, twitter: @dannylookman


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