Mayor Mike McGinn is proposing the Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs take over the city’s embattled Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center in 2013. The center is part of the Parks and Recreation Department now.
The proposal, pitched as a bookkeeping issue and a chance to better connect the Central Area arts center to the broader arts community, comes at a tumultuous time for the city’s arts department and is prompting questions about the best model for supporting Langston Hughes, a theater and community center with an emphasis on African-American artists.
Langston Hughes, which re-opened this spring after a remodel, is slated to receive $740,000 in city funds next year to pay for its operations and staff of seven. That’s more than other arts organizations that receive city support. For example, the Seattle Symphony got about $166,000 in city money in 2012.
The mayor’s proposed move would make permanent a temporary measure from a couple of years ago to fund the center with admissions-tax money, which usually goes to fund the city’s arts office. Since 2011, the mayor had been diverting about $1 million in admissions-tax money to parks for Langston Hughes and a couple of other arts programs.
In 2008, Langston Hughes was in a crisis over management issues and questions about its focus and mission. The city hired an independent consultant to investigate the management there.
The mayor’s proposed change comes on the heels of the sudden departure of Arts and Cultural Affairs Director Vincent Kitch. The mayor’s office won’t comment on why Kitch left the city after 16 months, and Kitch has not returned calls seeking comment.
Langston Hughes executive director Royal Alley-Barnes contributed this enthusiastic quote for a news release expected to be sent out later today: “This is an amazing opportunity for underrepresented and marginalized grassroots communities to become highly visible in the city’s public performing arts scene. The mayor has touched many hearts with this proposal.”
But the news release lacks any quotes from other parts of the arts community, which is ambivalent, said 4Culture Executive Director Jim Kelly. “I don’t think you’ll find anybody wildly supportive of the plan, but I don’t think you’d find anybody wildly opposed to it, either.”
Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata opted to put out his own news release about the change, rather than sign on to the mayor’s announcement, due out this afternoon.