Bruce Harrell, Mayoral Candidate — 2021 Primary Election

CANDIDATE: Bruce Harrell, Mayoral Candidate


Can you recall a meaningful arts experience that has stayed with you over time?

I recall many meaningful arts experiences that had a profound impact on me and my life. Music, arts, and poetic expression have always been important to me and my family. I believe these are the gifts and talents that we will be remembered by—not the budget appropriations for our roads or our laws. My father and mother attended the same school—Garfield High School. It was there that music had a powerful influence on my father’s life. It was at Garfield that my father found meaning – and friendship – in the Garfield High music program, performing with Quincy Jones, who later introduced him to my mom.

I believe the arts is the lifeblood of thriving communities. Arts experiences build hope and inspiration. The arts inspire people to fight for civil rights. These experiences help us get through the greatest challenges and the pain. I have observed that the arts make a difference in people’s lives and improve the world, one community at a time. I have lived these experiences in my community role as the board chair of a large African American arts facility on the west coast. 

Finally, I believe the arts is a path by which we can reach our youth; and, likewise, our youth can reach us.

This thought brings to mind a meaningful arts experience. In January 2017, when I was serving as the Seattle City Council President, I agreed to co-sponsor the Seattle Annual MLK Jr. Unity Day.

I could not have imagined that a cold night in Seattle’s Town Hall would turn out to be for many, including myself, a life-changing experience. The selection of music and the energy was exhilarating—I was transformed by the First Nation Native Drum Group & Ceremonial Prayer, Hip Hop Artist Gabrielle Teodros, Leija Farr (the first ever Seattle Youth Poet Laureate), the Sea-Town All Stars, and Soloists Josephine Howell and Stephana Sneed. And, during that evening, the inspirational message from Angela Davis clearly had an impact on the audience, the media, and me. It was electric and that experience transcended generations, cultures, genders, religion, and ideologies. In fact, that evening showcased the city’s diversity and forged partnerships with municipal leaders and community activists that would support Seattle’s No Youth Jail movement. The youth, the music, and Angela reached us—it was transformational.

How do the arts reflect the voices and perspectives in your own neighborhood?

My neighborhood, Zip code 98118, was noted as one of America’s top 20 most diverse neighborhoods—a mix of immigrants from across the globe, which includes 59 languages. Before the pandemic, the arts in my neighborhood was vibrant and alive. The voices and perspectives of my neighbors were well reflected in my community. Over these years, I’ve observed local organizations who are committed to curating, facilitating and promoting arts and cultural experiences. We should not hold back, but continue to drive forward and strategically work in creative placemaking, as well as facilitate more partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors to continue to shape the physical and social character of our neighborhoods.

When you walk through my community, you will experience incredible smells of many cuisines, colorful attire, paintings, and cultural activities. My community is known for having the best selection of foods, music, and culture that you can find anywhere in the city. However, to preserve all that we have enjoyed, I believe we need to be more strategic and work urgently in collaboration with other partners to continue to shape the physical and social character of our neighborhoods. The arts give our neighborhood permission to examine what it means to be human. It gives us permission to voice and express our challenges, particularly during our current environment. It helps us build our community, support one another, and collaborate as we face our challenges together. 

In 2014, I supported Seattle City Council Resolution 31555, a resolution creating an Arts & Cultural Districts program and implementation plan for Seattle and designating Capitol Hill’s Pike/Pine/12th Avenue neighborhood as the first officially recognized Arts & Cultural District.

That designation has also been extended to the Columbia Hillman Arts & Cultural District. The purpose of the Cultural Districts is to support arts and cultural uses and the economic benefits they provide. As you have likely observed through the pandemic, arts organizations are increasingly threatened with displacement due to rising rents and redevelopment. It will take Arts & Cultural Districts to protect and preserve organizations like the Royal Room and the Columbia City Theatre. Also, when the equity lens of Seattle’s Arts & Cultural Districts program continues to be utilized in our community, it will ensure that all Seattle residents can preserve and benefit from the cultural activities that strengthen our neighborhoods.

How do the arts reflect the voices and perspectives in your own neighborhood?

My track record supporting arts is proven and I will continue to be a strong advocate for arts as Mayor. My experience and vision clearly align with the collective arts mission of promoting the value of arts, ensuring that a wide range of high-quality artistic experiences are inclusively available to everyone, encouraging artist-friendly environments, and promoting Seattle as a destination for arts. We will allocate resources, focusing on the artist, the creative arts community, and the next generation of artists.

During my Council tenure, we legislated and supported vital programs to support the arts community, including:

  • Supported the ARTS at King Street Station project in creating a unique community arts space of its kind in the country. I met with stakeholders to ensure we listened to community needs.
  • Supported the Seattle Storefronts program back in 2010 to activate storefronts with local art in Seattle’s Pioneer Square and International District neighborhoods.
  • Supported CB 116394 waiving admissions tax on live music venues.
  • Supported CB 118533 to set aside up to 100% of the admission tax revenues for  Seattle’s arts and cultural community, up from 75%.
  • Supported 2016 budget statement of legislative intent requesting examination of expanding the City’s 1% for Art Program by removing current exclusions, thereby increasing the number of eligible projects allowed. 
  • Supported Res 31341 to create a Downtown Historic Theatre District to support Seattle’s entertainment treasures that energize the heart of our city with the performance arts.
  • Supported CB 118163 that provides financial incentive for performing arts theaters to rehabilitate and maintain their structures.
  • Supported CB 118557 (Nonprofit Admission Tax Exemption Ordinance) to permit certificate of exemption from the City’s admission tax to a qualifying nonprofit entity. 
  • Supported CB 118558 (Live Music Admission Tax Exemption Ordinance) establishing a less rigorous set of criteria for qualification for admission tax exemption for live music venues having a certificate of occupancy of 500 or fewer persons.
  • Supported Save the Showbox and tried to facilitate a resolution by meeting with legal representatives from both sides.
  • $150,000 in 2010-2011 to support the Wing Luke Museum in providing public programs and improve access for youth and lower-income groups.
  • $75,000 in 2016 to help fund an AIDS Legacy/Memorial planning process. The City’s funding was supplemented by a required $75,000 match in community support for a total planning budget of $150,000.
  • $150,000 in 2019-2020 to provide ongoing support to an African American museum, such as the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM). This funding will support public programming, small businesses, and community organizations vulnerable to cultural displacement due to development and gentrification.
  • $25,000 in 2019 to further align the work between the Race and Social Justice Initiative and racially equitable organizations serving artists of color, immigrants, and others experiencing structural oppression such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Committee.
  • $30,000 was allocated to support Creative Justice, an arts-based alternative to incarceration for young people in King County. This funding was part of $400,000 to provide community led alternatives to further the Zero Youth Detention initiative.
  • $100,000 in 2011 for one-time capital project awards to Seattle arts organizations.

How do you envision the arts in Seattle, especially as part of large issues like homelessness, climate change, structural racism, and the post-COVID recovery?

Revitalize Arts, Culture and Nightlife: Few sectors of our economy have been as hard hit as our city’s dynamic – and critical – arts, music, food and nightlife economy. Let’s re-imagine how we support these critical nonprofits and businesses – from preservation of historic buildings and venues, to exploration of sustainable revenue to support organizations that advance equity, inspire and teach, and provide a stage for the next Quincy Jones, Macklemore, or countless other creative voices in our community.

Rent stabilization and the threat of displacement are some of the largest impediments to artists in Seattle. I would examine the potential to replicate the 12th Avenue Arts model—a combined affordable housing and performance space—elsewhere in the city. From a policy standpoint, I will make sure we invest to prevent displacement and to come up with policies to help with rent stabilization. Artistic space is something we need to preserve and invest in.

I have attentively reviewed the Seattle Arts Commission 2021 priorities letter and will work with the Seattle Arts Commission and community stakeholders to examine the proposed recommendations. I will be an advocate for the types of bold, innovative policies that will make Seattle a national leader in driving opportunity and ensuring fairness and equity. As Mayor, we will develop a Seattle Jobs Center, a user-friendly infrastructure to help promote and employ every possible employee. The Arts Commission letter states, “More than 62% of artistic and creative workers have become fully unemployed, 95% of them have experienced significant income loss and 71% of arts organizations indicate that the financial impact has been “severe” due to the pandemic.” As part of my Seattle Jobs Center initiative, we will listen to the concerns and barriers faced by artistic and creative workers and implement real solutions to help. 

As Mayor, I will also examine additional resources and partnerships to further advance grant opportunities for cultural organizations, art groups, and individual artists.