Kshama Sawant, District 3 Candidate (Incumbent) — Arts Platform

Candidate: Kshama Sawant, Candidate for District 3 (Incumbent)


Seattle Arts Voter Guide: What is your arts platform?

Sawant: Seattle, for many years, has been an important center for artistic and musical talent, from the Northwest School of the 1930s and 40s to the grunge music scene of the 1990s to today’s diverse Seattle arts and music scene. And of course, long before Seattle was called Seattle the Coast Salish and other indigenous people of the surrounding region developed one of the world’s most powerful and distinctive artistic styles.

But our city’s art and music along with its venues, galleries and cultural hubs, are all subject to the same brutal logic of capitalism’s for-profit market as our housing and social services.

If big developers and billionaires are able to succeed in turning Seattle into a playground for the rich, it would devastate the fabric of our communities, including culture and affordable sources of entertainment. Seattle’s District 3 — including the historically people-of-color Central District and the historically LGBTQ Capitol Hill — is at the epicenter of this crisis. Corporate developers are raking in profits, while working people are being gentrified out of the CD and Capitol Hill. And on average, one of our neighbors in District 3 is evicted every other day.

Since art under capitalism rarely pays a living wage, many artists have already been forced out, while others are fighting to hold on. Art and culture cannot be allowed to become luxuries for a wealthy few – they are necessities that are vital for all working people in our community. We need to fight back, against the forces of displacement of both our communities and our culture.

Recently, I was proud to stand with musicians, artists, and other music lovers in the ongoing effort to save the Showbox Theatre from being redeveloped into luxury condos. Given that City Hall is dominated by corporate politics, initially I was the only Councilmember prepared to take on the developers. But the grassroots campaign, collecting over 100,000 signatures, brought pressure to bear on the political establishment and our movement was ultimately successful in temporarily delaying the re-development, through the extension of the boundaries of the Pike Place Market historical district.

The movement recently also won the designation of the Showbox Theatre as a historical landmark, however, since landmark status does not protect the Showbox as a venue or a cultural hub, it remains still very much under threat. We need to continue to build our movement, and also to fight to elect more, not fewer, representatives in City Hall who are not afraid to stand up to corporate interests.

As I’ve said since launching my campaign for re-election, what at stake this year is who runs Seattle — Amazon and big business or working people. This applies to the gentrification of both working people and our arts and culture. I was recently inspired by the “​Coming Soon​” installation in Pratt Park, which highlights this ongoing struggle by utilizing conventional signs of redevelopment like the ubiquitous “land use declaration” signs that dot District 3. It highlights the lived experience of so many Central District residents in their struggle to preserve their historic community. I was also moved by the oral history project “​Shelf Life​”, which documented the stories of working class and people of color residents facing gentrification. Seattle artists are telling the story of displacement even as they themselves face it.

Kshama Sawant, Candidate for District 3 (Incumbent)

I was proud to be invited to speak at ​a rally organized by workers at the Frye Art Museum​ on May 31st. These museum workers, many also artists, are themselves a part of what has made Seattle a vibrant, dynamic community. They’ve shared their creativity as glassblowers, printmakers, painters, and pen-and-ink artists. They guide museum visitors and lend their own knowledge and passion in teaching people about the Frye’s exhibits. But these workers face economic eviction from Seattle, because of the combination of an employer who continues to obstruct a good union contract, and corporate landlords who are relentlessly raising rents all over our city according to whatever the market will bear, even if people and culture cannot.

I’m also happy to see the proposed AIDS Memorial Parkway in Capitol Hill is going forward, to commemorate the courage of our LGBTQ community in the face of tremendous suffering and the collective struggles led by LGBTQ activists.

In the city we need, working people have the disposable time and income to fully explore and develop their own creativity, to engage in and appreciate art, as well as the cultural spaces to enjoy it.

In the words of Leon Trotsky, “Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.” Art has always played a vital role in social struggles, and has a key role to play in our grassroots movements in Seattle. I am proud, and lucky, to have talented working class graphic designers and artists working for our re-election campaign. You can often see their designs in our ​social media​ and on our w​ebsite blog​. Here are three recent examples from our campaign materials:

As your city councilmember, I have and will continue to fight for initiatives that defend working artists and promote the arts, music and culture in Seattle. Our city needs to dramatically increase funding for arts and art education as well as for cultural spaces. But that money won’t come from nowhere – we need to build the movement to tax the super rich and big businesses like Amazon who are making huge profits in this city, but who pay little or nothing in taxes.