Nikkita Oliver, District 9 Candidate — 2021 Primary Election

CANDIDATE: Nikkita Oliver, City Council District 9 Candidate


I am an artist and cultural worker, arts organizer, attorney, adjunct law professor, and executive director of Creative Justice — an arts-based, youth-led, healing engaged space. I fundamentally believe that arts and culture workers are workers. We deserve prevailing wages, healthcare, quality, affordable housing in the City, fair working conditions, and respect. Arts and Culture is a diverse and robust sector that is integral to every aspect of life in our City; whether we realize it or not.

Arts and culture saved my life as a youth. Choir, tech crew, musicals, symphony, theatre, and dance team gave me community, taught me discipline, provided me with space to safely experiment and learn from “mistakes,” and gave me a megaphone to speak truth to power. Arts and culture are foundational to the work I do now as a community organizer, activist, educator, and attorney.

Tony Cade Bambara said, “The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.” Every major shift in history has been preceded by the visions of arts and culture workers helping us to imagine what seems impossible and make it reality. People will often criticize me and say, “What does a poet know about governing?” And I will respond, “Our government is made up of laws. Laws are made up of words. Who understands the power of words better than a poet?” Our words are powerful and they can change the way our government works for or against the People.

Alice Walker taught us, “Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.” We are in a time of immense moral crisis and we need our public servants to do the work of consciousness raising. Who better to do this than a poet? Who better to help us imagine and build a healthier, thriving, more just world beyond prisons and police than an artist? The challenges of our times require creativity, vision and the ability to bring that vision forth in a way that people can receive. There are no workers better positioned to do this than our arts and culture workers!

Like many arts and culture workers in our City, I have made my living as a contractor–working 25+ different gigs in one year just to make ends meet; working primarily as a teaching artist in our local schools, writer and a performer for local venues and events; paying out of pocket for health insurance but rarely seeking medical care because it is still too costly; worrying about retirement but struggling to pay rent.

It was not until 2018 that I was able to have a full-time job with benefits as a working artist and arts organizer. Ironically, it was at the arts organization I helped to establish and grow. An organization that now employs 15-20 artists per year. Because we at Creative Justice believe prevailing wages, fair working conditions and benefits are human rights we strive to ensure that our entire team has access to what they need to thrive. We even pay the youth artists with whom we partner because we know the time an artist or cultural worker puts into learning and evolving their craft is just as valuable as what they create.

Arts and culture helps us to thrive emotionally, relationally, personally, collectively, and financially. Arts and culture is everywhere and in all aspects of life–from our clothes, the sides and insides of buses, the sounds in our ears as we move through the City, the aesthetics of our favorite restaurants, the specialty drink of our favorite bartender, festival performers and street fairs, etc. Artists and cultural workers contribute greatly to the thriving, liveability, health, and viability of our city every day.

Arts and culture workers are a diverse bunch with many skills. We are musicians and painters. We are also stagehands, sound techs, audio/visual specialists, wood workers, bartenders, designers, videographers, and chefs. While arts and culture is a sector all its own, many arts and culture workers are also cross sector workers that provide invaluable services in other industries.

It was disturbing to watch many of my comrades struggle to get unemployment benefits during the pandemic because of being self-employed/contractors. It is because of the work of artist and cultural worker-led groups, like the Artist Relief Fund, that impacted members of our arts community were able to survive this devastating time. The lack of access arts and culture workers have to state and employment benefits shows the overall lack of respect and value government and the greater community have for the service we provide.

Creative industries generate key revenue and employ people throughout our region. The Seattle Office of Arts and Culture is funded by a 5% admissions tax. Due to the pandemic and resulting lock down, ticket sales have been low, if not non-existent, significantly straining the Office’s ability to maintain and sustain its work and commitment to the artists and cultural workers of our City. Those who had the ability to comfortably quarantine enjoyed the opportunity to participate in cultural tourism from the comfort of their homes on the internet. Artists and cultural workers with sufficient internet access and a wide range of followers were able to pivot, but this was not true for everyone.

We’ve learned a lot during the pandemic. Some things have evolved for the better and others have created more pathways to undervalue and exploit the key and necessary services, culture, and community that artists and cultural workers create with and for us. As we reopen we cannot return to normal. Normal for many artists and cultural workers is a constant crisis waiting to happen. We deserve a new world that acknowledges the value and importance of arts and culture workers by providing the wages, benefits, protections, and respect we deserve. We must uplift our arts and culture venues and find safe, affirming, and financially sustaining ways to patron them.

As an arts and culture worker I know firsthand the joys and struggles. We intentionally launched the #Nikkita4Nine campaign with a short spoken word film. Artists and cultural workers and arts and culture spaces were woven throughout the entire piece because arts and culture are central and essential to my life, organizing, and how I will serve as a Seattle city council member. For many years I’ve leveraged my skills as an artist and cultural worker to speak truth to power. As a teaching artist I have taught others how to do the same. I look forward to bringing the power of arts and culture to council chambers.

We must do more than recover from the impacts of the pandemic and resulting recession. We must build a true social and economic safety net for everyone. Arts and culture and our local creative economy are key to re-establishing our community connections, reactivating our public spaces, and growing stronger and healthier together.


Artists and Cultural Workers Bill of Rights

Work with local arts and culture workers to develop an “Artists and Cultural Workers Bill of Rights” for our City.

The goal will be to create a guiding document for our City that sets a standard for the protection of our rights in our creative work when we partner with the City and to provide the foundation for a campaign to combat the exploitation of arts and culture workers and their creative works and skills by private and public sector organizations.

Shout out to “Forever Safe Spaces”–a grassroots organizing body fighting for the rights of arts and culture workers and to strengthen the creative economy.

Basic Income Pilot Program (also known as a Guaranteed Income Pilot Program)

All over the country cities are launching basic income pilot programs focused on arts and culture workers. We can start initially with a small cohort of workers receiving $1000 a month, examine the impacts, determine the feasibility, and identify a funding source.

Affordable Housing for Artists

Annually Seattle grows more and more unaffordable. The average salary of an artist in Washington is $60,383. Seattle’s household median income is over $100,000. Most artists and cultural workers who work in our City are significantly rent burdened and many are not able to live within city limits. We will build social, green, affordable housing and invest in community land trusts and housing cooperatives specifically for artists and cultural workers.

More Dollars and Benefits to Arts & Culture Workers

AccessingCity of Seattle Arts & Culture grants is challenging. We provide some technical assistance but we must do better. Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and disabled arts and culture workers have described the process as poorly advertised, inaccessible, and culturally unresponsive, and, at times, antithetical to an arts and culture workers work flow.

More dollars must go directly to artists and cultural workersand less towards buildings. By this I mean, our publicly funded projects must directly benefit arts and culture workers rather than simply filling buildings or parks with arts.

We are on Native land.We all benefit from the arts and culture of coastal salish Native peoples. We live in a City named after a Duwamish and Suquamish Chief, Chief Sealth. Our Native arts and culture workers, who teach us all about the land and the peoples of this land, should receive funding specific to, for and honoring of their unique, essential and invaluable contributions to arts and culture in Seattle.

Additionally, Black arts and culture workers have transformed many neighborhoods and districts in our City into arts and culture districts. In acknowledgement of these contributions we must find a way to prioritize a percentage of our arts and culture dollars for Black artists, cultural workers, venues, and developments in historically Black and redlined neighborhoods like the Central District.

Arts & Culture Incubator Pilots

Direct funding through the Office of Arts & Culture to develop Arts & Culture Incubator pilots in community-based and community-led organizations, cooperatives, and venues.

Arts & culture incubators nurture the growth and development of artists, arts & culture organizations and enterprises to strengthen and sustain our local creative economy. Incubators can provide technical support to art & culture organizations and workers, provide access to training to gain the business skills necessary to be successful in the creative economy, equip cultural groups and arts entrepreneurs with the skills, tools, relationships, and opportunities necessary to thrive. Ultimately, an arts & culture incubator supports future arts and culture entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations, and arts and cultures workers by supporting them in entering into the creative economy and cross-sector opportunities. Arts and culture incubators are a platform to empower arts and culture workers and organizations to develop, implement and access resources to thrive in the creative economy.

Additionally, a portion of these pilots can focus specifically on community kitchens. The culinary arts feed our spirits and our bodies while growing and strengthening our community connections. Black, Indigenous and People of Color owned restaurants and BIPOC chefs played a significant and essential role in feeding our communities during the pandemic. Many of these restaurants and chefs utilized community kitchens during the pandemic to feed communities and/or the restaurants they currently own and operate were birthed out of community kitchens. Community kitchens represent a key opportunity for small business incubation, community building, community collaborations, and mutual aid.