Candidate: Zachary DeWolf, Candidate for District 3
Seattle Arts Voter Guide: What is your statement on the arts?
DeWolf: As a citizen of the Chippewa Cree Nation of Rocky Boy, Montana, the arts and the ways in which we tell our communities story is deeply important and an inherent part of who I am as a Native person.
As President of the Capitol Hill Community Council, we understood and prioritized our very few resources to support arts and the Seattle Mural Project because I understand that arts play a vital role in our local communities and our neighborhoods. The arts, in general across the country, bring in an estimated $736 billion dollars per year according to a recent report. We must ensure that the arts are part of our conversations about future development across our district. I was so grateful to sit on the Capitol Hill Champion and work on the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) for the Capitol Hill Light Rail station–we worked to ensure that the light rail station development included the AIDS memorial pathway, for example. The arts are a great way to tell our his- and herstories while also creating community and cultural landmarks that attract more people to hear our history and know better who we are as a community.
As your council member, I will look to the folks in the arts community to help me find unique, and creative ways to embed the arts as we create a Seattle we can all be proud of for today and seven generations into the future.
SAVG: Describe a meaningful arts experience that has stayed with you over time.
DeWolf: Three experiences:
1) When I lived in Spokane, they would host a Kids Art Day in Browne’s Addition neighborhood. I remember, every year, when I was a kid, my mom would take us there and we’d spend the whole day there getting lost and creating art with kids from across the city. It was awesome to be in community and meet new kids from different neighborhoods. I know my mom still has the high heel I used as my art medium from one of those times.
2) I used to work at the NATIVE Project in Spokane, and every summer we hosted a Summer Program for young Native kids from across the city. It was during these summers both as a participant and an employee that I grew deeply connected to my creative side and become more connected to my culture. In our culture, the first thing you make you must give away. I gave away a lot of crafts during those years and I loved being able to sit at the intersection of arts and my culture.
3) I love “Legendary Children” and wish it was a more regular event. This event always makes me feel seen as a queer, Native person in Seattle. And I love being in community with my other queer black and brown friends (and everyone else who comes out and supports and appreciates our community and cultures)
SAVG: How do the arts reflect the voices and perspectives in your own neighborhood?
DeWolf: The arts – in film, music, painting, food, dance, fashion, sculpture, poetry, and more – are deeply important to me. I understand the arts as the voice of our communities. If there are big issues locally or nationally, the arts are the place you are likely to hear what our community is saying about it. It provides a time stamp for future generations to see where we’ve been, what and how we’re doing, and how we’re going to evolve into our best selves as a community. In Native culture, we often talk about the seven generations principle which says that what we do now must create positive, sustainable, and meaningful solutions for today and seven generations into the future. The arts should tell the story of who we are now and who know we can be. It is deeply important that we, as leaders and policymakers, elevate the arts as a vehicle that elevates our community’s voice. The arts are also a crucial lens by which we should examine how our neighborhoods evolve. I’ve been reading a lot about how certain cities are centering different values in how they approach development and planning for the future. New Zealand is centering their future planning around “well-being.” I greatly admire this approach and believe if we center culture, arts, well-being, and most definitely, joy, our city would be much more vibrant.
SAVG: How do you envision the arts as part of the Seattle, especially as part of education, equity, housing, transportation, culture, the economy, and/or community?
DeWolf: I think the arts should have a bigger role in new developments across the city. What if every new development–market rate and affordable–was required to include arts, culture, or some element to their buildings that included using local artists to create an arts time stamp about the neighborhood, the city, and our community?
SAVG: With all the backlash on you having no experience raising kids, what are some ways the arts and culture sector can help promote educational standards for all households? What are some ways you’re thinking about relating to families regarding better education platforms?
DeWolf: Growing up as queer (urban) Native in Spokane and ultimately working at the NATIVE Project, I managed three important youth programs: an after school wellness program for Native youth, a Spring Native Leadership camp, and a Summer Program for Native youth. Having my own kids or not, working in my community to support and empower young people has been a core part of how I understand my role in the world. And cultural arts and crafts was an especially important medium for our young people to connect to the community and their culture. A big part of being a policy maker is to first, elevate the importance of arts as a component in a child’s positive development. I imagine not many people in our community can tell you why kids needs arts in their lives, particularly as it relates to their educational/intellectual health: because the arts foster intellectual development and some of the benefits are that it stimulates both sides of the brain, increases the capacity of memory, attention and concentration, and helps develop reading skill and children ultimately do better in math and science. When we think about our public schools OR our city’s involvement in public education in our city, I believe we can couple a child’s so-called academic achievement with a certain proportion of arts to help young people develop their brains and their creative powers.
SAVG: It is clear you’re extremely involved in the nonprofit sector and an advocate for various underserved communities. What are some clear and productive ways the arts and culture sectors have helped elevate voices you stand for? Have you considered the arts and culture sector as a necessary bridge to generate more funding for? If so, in what ways might you manage these funds? If not, why?
DeWolf: Again, I think of “Legendary Children,” which, for someone who grew up in a fairly conservative city, has become one of the very few places I feel seen. I know it is a place that has made many of my friends feel seen. I want to continue investing in those ideas not just for me but for all of the other people who so often don’t feel seen. AND I want to consider what other communities aren’t feeling seen – because the arts has the power to do that – and so I consider the immigrant and refugee community, the differently-abled community, and intergenerational and senior community. How can we elevate their stories to both affirm them as a part of our American story and also to ensure more stories are being told. I think, and similar to our theory of change at the organization I work at (All Home, which coordinates homelessness efforts across King County), we must always center most affected by an issue in the solution. What does our arts community say they need, and how can the city respond to that. The arts are a deeply vital and meaningful part of our communities and our community’s story. The arts help us tell our story so that the generation seven generations into the future will more fully know who we were and where they’ve come from.