Report: Puget Sound arts and culture sector at risk of exodus

We can’t entirely blame COVID-19 for the current state of the arts, says PSRC’s Thibedeau. For too long, the industry has relied on unfair funding structures and underpaid workers. Housing affordability and job instability have been an issue for years, as have racial inequalities in the area. “These have been underlying challenges and issues for the industry for a very, very long time,” says Thibedeau. The pandemic has not helped. “Now things are, like many things, more difficult, more dire.”

With employment in the arts and entertainment sector still falling, along with inflation and rising housing costs, the sector could be closer to the edge of the cliff. Although there is no single path, the report builds a bridge to the other side.

Building this bridge, according to the PSRC, will require a concerted effort from governments, nonprofits, businesses and philanthropists – and a variety of potential building blocks.

The list of several dozen proposed solutions includes everything from the simple and concrete (adjust noise ordinances so musicians can play in public spaces later in the evening; easing childcare costs for parents artists; expand Olympia and Tacoma’s cultural access programs statewide) to the most ambitious (“engage the business community as a whole in support of arts and culture”, “develop a model of sustainable enterprise for arts and culture”) and inventive (create a regional administrator or commission a non-profit organization to oversee benefits for arts and culture workers, such as a union).

While the report emphasizes that higher wages and access to affordable housing and benefits are paramount, it avoids endorsing or specifically calling for more systemic solutions, such as building such housing.

“As part of this work, our consultants have recognized that the region’s housing issues are clearly a driving factor in how well the arts and culture community can actually function,” Thibedeau said. “But this [report] is not a strategy to solve the housing problem,” he said, adding that the PSRC is currently working on a regional housing strategy.

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