Dow Constantine, King County Executive Candidate (Incumbent) — 2021 General Election

CANDIDATE: Dow Constantine, King County Executive Candidate (Incumbent)


I learned at a young age that art has the unique power to transcend languages, cultures, and history. Art allows us to view the world through the eyes of others, inspires social change, and creates shared experiences. Understanding our neighbors as humans in the same way that we are human is foundational to building community. Inspired in part by the values of our region that have been fostered through art and culture, and dedicated to driving progress for all, I have committed King County to our True North: “Making King County a welcoming community where every person can thrive.”

Our systemic and political changes towards equity need to coincide with cultural changes towards openness and inclusivity. Community spaces where artists and consumers of all backgrounds are exposed to multiple perspectives delineate an ethic of empathy and understanding. I see art as a potent site of cultural connection, social cohesion, and community transformation.

The arts are also an important economic engine for our region, employing thousands of artists and cultural workers, creating neighborhood vibrancy, and inspiring tourism.

I am proud of my lifelong and enthusiastic commitment to arts, science and heritage organizations, to artists and musicians, and to the cultural community that creates jobs, builds community, and brings joy to our region.

Tell us about your personal involvement in Seattle’s art and cultural life. How do you make art a part of your life?

I grew up in a home full of creativity, and I fell in love with art from a very young age. My father is a visual artist. He has worked in watercolor, acrylic, and mixed media, and taught painting, drawing, design, art history and other subjects at four colleges. Our parents made sure we were continually immersed in visual arts, performing arts, and music. And I very much took to music. In school, I took up the trombone, and our very robust music programs in West Seattle’s public schools at that time gave me a solid grounding in all genres of music, but especially jazz. And, along the way, I developed a deep affection for popular music. During my undergraduate years, I volunteered as a DJ at UW’s campus radio station KCMU (now KEXP). There, in addition to spinning a passable mix of the punk and alternative offerings of the day, met a much cooler DJ, Shirley Carlson, who was also the station’s Music Director, and just three decades later we were married.

As an elected official, activist, and Seattleite, I have taken to the streets to protect the Admiral Theatre, the old First Methodist Church, and The Showbox from demolition, and centered the creative economy as a key initiative of King County’s economic development and COVID recovery strategy. I have been a strong supporter of growing spaces for arts and artists, expanding access to tools like music studios, performance spaces like theaters, and to the audiences that allow artists to showcase their work. Throughout my administration and campaigns, I have always made arts, culture, and music integral elements, embedding it in my events, in my priorities, and with an eye toward our collective future.

I am committed to championing the creative sector, raising visibility and lifting voices of artistic expression.

This survey from ArtsFund shows that the Seattle arts and cultural community has seen significant declines (over 50%) in income due to Covid. The arts already operate on a razor’s edge and many organizations may not be able to afford the cost of reopening. How will you support Seattle’s arts and culture sector in its reopening and revitalization?

Art and the cultural spaces artists create are sites of connection. People flock to the places that artists make cool. As a result, arts add great social value to our city; a thriving economy and society is one that has a robust arts and culture community. It is in our best interest to invest in Seattle’s art and cultural life. As a fourth-generation Washingtonian, life-long King County resident, and politician who loves Seattle and King County, I am committed to protecting and championing our arts and cultural spaces.

COVID has hit the creative economy particularly hard. In the last 18 months, the unthinkable happened to our stages, performance spaces, museums, and cultural spaces. The creative sector shut down programming, cancelled thousands of concerts, performances, and exhibits, and laid off thousands of cultural workers. In response, in August of 2020, I announced a $2 million emergency fund using federal CARES Act funds that awarded 62 grants to music venues and arts, culture, and science organizations to help keep cultural workers on payroll. As the stay-at-home policies ebbed and flowed, I also launched our Keep it Local King County campaign, highlighting local small businesses and encouraging people to begin or continue memberships in arts and science organizations, participate in online programming, and support these critical community resources. We also drove public health rulemaking with needed collaboration with cultural and industry leaders to reopen safely. Now, as we begin to reopen, I have proposed a $600 million economic recovery plan that includes $20 million to support organizations in the creative economy and $9.4 million for 4Culture’s recovery fund. I proposed additional funding to restore jobs in King County’s film industry, and an event and festival restart fund.

I have made the revitalization of film production in King County a top priority by convening a Film Advisory Board and repurposing the old Fisher Flour Mill on Harbor Island into a new film production facility. Having just opened the new facility this year, we are already attracting new productions to our region and creating new jobs for hundreds of King County residents in the film and television industry.

In addition to building new facilities, we need to stop demolishing existing arts and entertainment venues. As the price of land goes up, we are going to face these battles over and over and over again. My approach is that we don’t have to sacrifice everything that makes this place worth living here to have housing and everything else we need. We can have historic buildings, other cultural institutions, and green space and still build plenty of housing and office space. When our cultural institutions are threatened, you’ll see me stand against it, as I’ve done with the Admiral Theatre and the Showbox. We will continue to be creative in how we protect our venues and cultural spaces. During the “Save Our Showbox” campaign, I proposed that we utilize a land-use tool called TDR (transfer of development rights) to make the Showbox more financially viable and worked with the Seattle City Council to save the Showbox. We’ve used TDR in the past to preserve arts and music venues, and I will keep proposing that and other creative ways to protect our cultural spaces. Together, we will navigate our way out of this challenging time.

Supporting Seattle’s arts and cultural spaces also means investing in artists and arts organizations. In 2015, I announced a partnership between 4Culture and King County to back a $28 million bond—to 100 arts and cultural organizations—financed through future lodging taxes to support cultural capital projects in every corner of the county, to include new cultural facilities, as well as expand, preserve, and improve existing ones. It was the largest investment in arts and culture ever undertaken by King County. We also worked with 4Culture to finance a $1 million investment in equity and inclusion to provide financial support to organizations of, by, and for people of color. In 2016, I was recognized with the Public Leadership in the Arts Award from Americans for the Arts.

I am running for reelection to continue as your partner, supporter, and lifelong fan of art, music, science, and heritage. I am deeply committed to supporting the creative sector, and I will continue to advocate for artists and art spaces as King County Executive.