Colleen Echohawk, Mayoral Candidate — 2021 Primary Election

CANDIDATE: Colleen Echohawk, Mayoral Candidate


Arts Engaged: Arts & Cultural Policies for Seattle and Seattleites

My strategy for the support of the arts in Seattle is rooted in the belief that the arts create a culture of inclusion and belonging for us all. Arts and culture are deeply embedded into the fabric of Native communities, and I believe in the transformational power of the arts. In an Echohawk Administration artists, traditional knowledge keepers, and the creative economy will help Seattle recover from the impacts of COVID-19.

As mayor I will invest in artists and cultural activity, and in particular in BIPOC artists and previously underinvested and marginalized cultural communities, to lay the foundation for a more equitable and inclusive creative recovery. In Seattle I have seen our arts and cultural communities taking this year’s existential issues head-on. The centering of BIPOC creatives in the programming and leadership of many Seattle arts organizations this year has been a welcome, if long overdue, shift. The degree to which arts and cultural organizations have invested in the economic survival of their staff and artists this year has been inspiring. Brand-new modes of distanced, safe arts presentation were invented almost immediately and refined into a new form overnight.

In the arts, as in all things, we need to take with us the best of what we’ve built in this past year, these tools we’ve used to transcend the solitude and distance, as we reimagine our new Seattle.

Let’s also be clear about how we talk about our return to gallery openings and theater premieres next year – don’t call it a comeback. Artists and cultural creatives have been here all year. They’ve been making new work and they’ve been exploring new ways of sharing that work. Artists have carried us through the darkest parts of this past year. The musical performance in the middle of an interminable zoom meeting. The weeks of binging your favorite new web series. The re-emergence of drive-in entertainment! The virtual exhibitions, the livestreamed performances. The incredible virtual programming created by teaching artists to help our kids learn, process, and connect while they couldn’t go to school. We owe so much of our collective mental, spiritual, and cultural health to the artists and cultural organizations who have been here for us. Artists have shown up for us this year, bringing us hope, and joy, and reflection, and escape.

As we emerge from our COVID-driven isolation, I want to see Seattleites celebrating in the streets, and in the clubs, and celebrating in our stadia, and in community centers and museums and places of worship and in our parks, and in our theaters.

The 1918 pandemic ended and set off the Jazz Age, the Roaring ‘20s. We could be on the brink of a golden era of artistic and cultural expression in Seattle, but we must ensure that our artists and our arts and cultural organizations have the support they need to be the engines of that revival.


People First. It means centering individuals. It means that through an investment in people we can build a more inclusive community. It means envisioning a Seattle that works for everyone, including the artists whose labor is essential for our collective well-being and civic cohesion. I watched as the pandemic hit Seattle and our arts workers—musicians, actors, dancers, DJ’s, teaching artists, writers, arts administrators, and so many more—were hit hard. Overnight, as venues did their part to slow the spread of COVID by closing their doors, creative workers—whose livelihoods rely on the ability of people to gather—were suddenly without a way to earn income. These are workers who were already struggling to live securely and support their families in our expensive city.

Supporting artists’ ability to make art is an investment in community; it’s an investment in our shared cultural health. Investing in artists fills our city with art. And it’s literally a great investment. Every dollar we spend on the arts in Seattle generates three dollars in additional “multiplier” spending. The return on our investment in the arts pays for itself in added economic activity three times over.

As mayor I will:

Explore Basic Income programs for artists. I am inspired by examples of cities exploring new ways to directly support artists. In San Francisco, the Guaranteed Income Pilot project was launched earlier this year as a way to provide baseline support for artists and creatives in one of the (other) most expensive cities in the country. I’ll direct Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, in partnership with the Office for Civil Rights, to explore how this pilot program could be replicated in Seattle. To paraphrase San Francisco’s mayor London Breed, if we help artists recover, artists will help Seattle recover. Providing for the basic needs of artists in our community is the very foundation of that recovery.

Get government out of the way. The City of Seattle strives for direct and authentic connections to the artists and organizations driving our city’s cultural life, but it doesn’t always succeed. As mayor, I will make City resources available to the arts community, without requiring a direct connection to the City. The Seattle Artists Relief Fund, created by Ijeoma Oluo, Ebony Arunga, and Gabriel Teodros, and managed by Langston, is an example of a successful campaign where the City’s arts office was able to move resources directly to artists through a partner with direct ties to community. I recommend expanding this strategy, and finding partners in Indigenous communities and in other communities of color, in disability communities, immigrant and refugee communities, with the young, the old, and in other disproportionately underfunded communities, to move money directly to the places where it can have the greatest and most immediate impact.

Redesign the 1% for Art program to bring benefit to artists, not buildings. The 1% for Arts program creates murals, sculptures, and other arts interventions connected to government capital projects (typically buildings) in Seattle. It has resulted in the commissioning of many iconic artworks, but has not succeeded in generating value for artists, and especially not for BIPOC artists, who are severely underrepresented in the City’s public art portfolio. I propose a re-examination of the current ordinance, with the goal of creating more equitable and artist-supportive structures, and a de-emphasis on placing pretty things on pedestals in front of government buildings. In the past year, the 1% fund was used in some inventive, community-based ways to reflect community values and bring direct benefit to artists – the artist-made yard signs that filled our parks and community centers and reflected our cultural heritages come to mind as a great example. I support that kind of reimagining.

Support the creation of affordable artists housing opportunities. When I speak of the need to provide housing to all essential workers in Seattle, I am explicitly including artists as essential to our collective civic health. In multiple conversations, I’ve heard artists speak about the creative and communal benefits derived just from the proximity to one another that artist housing provides. But increasingly artists, like so many low- and moderate- income Seattleites, are being pushed to the periphery of our city and beyond. Artists are being priced out of the city at an alarming rate. If we don’t plug this creative drain, we risk becoming a city that lacks the ability to remember itself, to see itself, to gather itself, to define itself collectively, and to imagine itself into a better future—this is the work that artists do, and it is essential. The city also directly benefits from an investment in artist housing. The Tashiro-Kaplan building in Pioneer Square houses over 50 affordable artist housing units, and another 30 affordable commercial cultural spaces. It has become an essential anchor to the First Thursday artwalk, and brings a creative energy and vitality to the entire neighborhood. The City of Seattle could partner with existing providers of affordable artist housing and arts live/work spaces, such as ArtSpace, to make Seattle a more inclusive place for artists and their families.


I don’t know how to solve every problem we face (yet!). I only know that maintenance of the status quo is not an option. And I know that it is only through curiosity and creativity that we will see the innovations that can transform our city and our society. Artists approach the world from a fundamentally curious stance – what isn’t there? What could be? It’s a curiosity that I strive to embrace in my own leadership. This curiosity leads to new ideas, new structures, new solutions. As mayor, I will:

Give artists a seat at the table. I have spoken about the uniquely curious stance that artists and other creatives bring to the world. I would like to see this curiosity better reflected in our governance structures and in the work of City departments. As mayor I will propose the addition of an artist’s seat on every City of Seattle board and commission. I believe in embedding an arts perspective in all aspects of our governance, from the Community Police Commission or the Transit Advisory Board, to the Renters’ Commission or the Pedestrian Advisory Board. This curious stance, this creative perspective, is critical to moving the City’s work forward in an innovative and healthy way. This plan gives the arts community much needed representation in civic decision-making, similar to the Get Engaged program of youth involvement in boards and commissions.

Leverage artists’ expertise for meaningful community engagement. Cities are at their best when their policy decisions are informed by authentic community input. Unfortunately, city governments are not always great at engaging community in a way that generates trust and stimulates honest, substantive, actionable feedback. But you know who is great at engaging community? Artists. Many artists, because of the nature of their practice, are experts at building meaningful relationships with community. Think about artists whose work engages oral histories, or artists who create public artworks with and for specific cultural communities. You’ve heard me say many times that I want to be a mayor who puts people first; that I want to build a city hall where everyone feels seen and heard. As mayor, I would hire artists to help develop and implement community engagement strategies, to help City staff see and hear our constituents, whether they’re transit riders, small businesses, our homeless populations, our elderly or our youth.


I want to talk about the spiritual value of the arts. I want to explore how the arts create pathways to healthier communities. I want to honor the myriad cultural heritages that have come together to build this gorgeous city. We have spent the last year banging pots and pans together, hanging signs, delivering meals, and collecting PPE to honor those who have worked to protect and to heal us. But when the pandemic is over, who will heal the healers? Who plays the music that soothes and restores our exhausted nurses? Who creates the public art that connects our bus drivers to the city? Who will write the stories that offer catharsis to our teachers, our custodians, our grocery store workers? Who will make the art that will allow all of us—whatever our occupations—to reflect on what we’ve been through and begin to heal? Artists will. They already have. Our city could have been encased in a characterless wall of plain plywood last summer when storefront after storefront boarded up. Instead, artists brought an explosion of creative vision to the new skin of the city – a nearly continuous display of murals from the International District to the University District.

We must support the artists and arts organizations who support our spiritual health. As mayor I will:

Honor the power of gathering. As we begin to reach a point in the COVID pandemic where we are able to gather together again and to celebrate our shared experiences, I would like to see the City of Seattle supporting an ongoing series of community celebrations driven by the arts community. Specifically, as mayor I would reimagine our mammoth annual Bumbershoot arts festival, redistributing it into 100 equitably resourced neighborhood festivals, reflecting, centering, and celebrating the artists and cultures of those neighborhoods.

Launch Hope Corps. The City of Seattle and community partners have devised a new approach to integrating artists into our shared recovery efforts. Modeled in part on the New Deal that helped pull this country out of the Great Depression, this new program, Hope Corps, centers artists in our city’s post-COVID revitalization. I will fully fund the Hope Corps model, connecting artists and our burgeoning local communities to build this city back bolder than ever.

Part of healing and recovery as a society is acknowledging and repairing historic societal wrongs. We live in a city that has reaped the benefits generated by extreme exploitation, by land theft, by exclusionary policies and programs, and by intentional disinvestment. And we see these wrongs perpetuated today, through various mechanisms that, despite good intentions, are insidiously hard to root out of our institutions.

I propose a series of reparative investments, primarily in BIPOC artists and organizations but in all marginalized and exploited communities, to address these historic harms and to build a more inclusive future:

Solidify the support of BIPOC artists and cultural communities that has emerged this past year. I am inspired by the strides towards racial equity that I have seen the City, our community-based arts partners, and the philanthropic world take in the wake of this past year’s national racial reckoning. There is also a realistic fear in our community that this forward momentum could be short-lived, and that in another year the “dominant culture” art world may revert to its former state. We must take action to make permanent the gains that have been won in this past year. I would work with our departments, and with our funded nonprofit partners, to ensure that public resources are distributed in a way that continues to meet our equity goals, and in a way that makes reparative investments in communities that have been historically undercapitalized.

Reverse the City’s overinvestment in its largest institutions. It’s also critical that we recover from a half-century of inequitable investment in the arts. The six largest arts organizations in Seattle generate enormous benefit to the City, they employ hundreds of artists and administrators, they are the portals through which the rest of the country sees Seattle’s art world. These six organizations also receive nearly half of the funding in the City’s flagship funding program. This has been true for more than a decade. Another 150 of the City’s small and midsize organizations are then left to compete against one another for the limited resources left after the “majors” have had their fill. Our largest institutions are important anchors to our cultural community. But we have to invest in the whole of our cultural ecosystem. The belief that outsized investments in the largest cultural institutions would trickle down deeper into the arts community has not been borne out. I will mandate a reversal of this practice and build more equitable funding structures that invest in Seattle’s cultural ecosystem from the grassroots up.

10 percent of the 1 percent to Indigenous artists. I will formalize a small but symbolically significant element of cultural reparations connected to the One Percent for Art public art ordinance. Ten percent of all “One Percent” dollars (the percentage of municipal capital projects dedicated to public art) will be mandated to go to Indigenous artists. These public art budgets are literally generated off of buildings that sit on the land from which Indigenous families were displaced during Seattle’s founding. It is time to begin to repair that damage.


The same pressures that have created one of the country’s worst housing crises have displaced scores of artists and cultural spaces and made survival tenuous for all but the most institutional.

I believe in creating not just homes for artists, but a home for the arts. I believe that to house arts and culture, you need to build some houses for arts and culture.

As mayor I will:

Capitalize the Cultural Space Agency. This year a group of BIPOC community partners lobbied the City to charter a new public development authority, a mission-driven cultural real estate development company called the Cultural Space Agency. I believe that this initiative holds enormous potential to bring an equitable lens to how the City and its philanthropic partners make investments in cultural spaces. I would fully capitalize the Cultural Space Agency’s projects supporting cultural communities of color and other marginalized communities. I want to stop the wave of displacement that has been crashing over Seattle’s cultural spaces, and I want to build, stabilize, enhance and preserve cultural spaces in our fastest-changing neighborhoods.

Prioritize Indigenous cultural uses of surplus City-owned properties. The City of Seattle’s history of actively displacing the Indigenous people who called this area home since time immemorial is shameful and needs to be addressed. That reckoning will take many years and cannot be satisfied here through a cultural policy recommendation. However, currently the City of Seattle classifies dozens of properties as “surplus to the City’s needs.” I will prioritize the transfer of these properties to Indigenous cultural organizations and will mandate that those transfers are offset by the public benefit those cultural organizations create. Where a property might be transferred to a non-Indigenous cultural organization, Indigenous voices must be involved in the conversations around disposition. Almost every City of Seattle meeting now begins with an earnest “land acknowledgement” recognizing the unceded nature of the territory now named for the Duwamish leader Si’ahl. It is time to show that those acknowledgements are more than just empty words. It is time to act.


The City’s arts efforts are almost entirely funded through the Admissions Tax, a 5% tax we all pay every time we buy a ticket to any commercial entertainment. See Star Wars, pay a 5% admissions tax; see the Seattle Storm play, pay a 5% admissions tax. Typically, pre-pandemic, this tax generated roughly $10 million per year, which is the base budget for the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture. Clearly, for the past year no one has bought a ticket to anything. If the City wants to see support for the arts remain robust and grow, if you would like to see the ideas in this policy document made real, we must address a glaring omission in how we collect the admissions tax.

You will note that while I used the example of paying the admissions tax on tickets to women’s professional sports in Seattle, you will not in fact pay it when you buy a ticket to men’s professional sports.

As mayor I will eliminate this obvious inequity, and will work with our partners at the Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders, and Kraken to rally around our civic priorities, and add significant supportto our shared cultural celebration moving forward.