by Jen Graves
on Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 7:30 AM
Courtesy Randy Engstrom
This guy. Art and marriage equality aren't necessarily related, but we thought you might want to know he stands up for other things, too.
After a false start with his last pick for director of the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, Mayor McGinn announced today the appointment of Randy Engstrom in the post. He's "interim," but only until the City Council approves him. Engstrom says he expects to spend "at least a couple years" in the job. "I'm ready to stick around."
The appointment is an outreach move, which is direly needed since for years the city office has seemed like a limb with no blood flowing to it. Engstrom is a ninja at connecting and showing up. Go to an event, he's there. He knows and/or has collaborated with pretty much every arts worker in the city, with some sustained focus on social justice through the years. He has been working in Seattle for more than a decade.
Mayor McGinn and Engstrom met back when Engstrom was the founding director of Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in Delridge, he said in a phone conversation Thursday evening.
"I feel a very strong overlap with Randy," McGinn said. He described the process:
"We had an interview process. I had a panel composed of Darryl Smith, Michele Scoleri, and Robert Nellams from the center, because they’re good people and Robert was bringing in a little experience as a department head, and then I briefly did an open advertisement. Three finalists were then entertained by a three-person panel from the arts commission to get feedback. And then I interviewed the three finalists, and chose Randy.
I feel a very strong overlap with Randy. His values about the role of arts in our community. And I also really appreciated the way in which he approaches doing the work, which is that, you know, we’ve got a big city government, and there’s a lot of opportunities to partner across city government around the arts, and that’s where he was coming from as a starting place. So it felt like a strong selection. ...I’d met him when he was at Youngstown, he was indeed in a lot of different places, I loved his work with FEEST, I loved the way in which he engaged with youth and his deep concerns about race and social justice, so that’s why I said it’s a very strong values overlap with Randy and me. And his thought processes on the role arts can play in how we get things done in the city—that arts is not a standalone thing; that’s very important to me. That it’s a way of integrating multiple objectives. In city government right now, the way we approach problems is you try to bring in all the departments that touch it and then work collaboratively with the community on how to address it, and I’m just really excited to bring the office of arts and cultural affairs into that, and I value department heads that know how to do that well.
Since relationship-making is a large part of what someone at this level does (and who knows exactly what the hell else they do?), Engstrom seems a smart choice.
He starts Wednesday. The first order of business is stability, he said. (The office's employees got a shock when the previous director left suddenly recently—they didn't know he was going until the day the resignation was announced publicly.) Engstrom said he believes the office does plenty of great work, but hasn't done such a great job of getting the word out about it.
"They just need stable, grounded leadership that has the relationships that can help them be successful," he said in a phone conversation today.
His priorities: affordable space, increasing the arts funding pie (pitiful compared to other cities), arts in the reboot of the waterfront ("the waterfront is probably the most important thing this community does in my lifetime, and I want to see us go big"), and expanding youth access to art (including resolving this ed levy foulup; Engstrom worked closely with educational arts groups Arts Corps, Nature Consortium, and the alternative high school Interagency Academy, among others, in his tenure at Youngstown).
His philosophy: "Particularly the folks who survived the culture wars in the '90s have a really, really risk-averse approach to public art and public arts management, and I think we have to not be afraid to take chances, and i think we have to not be afraid of conversation. I want the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs to be—not everyone is going to like everything we do, and I think that's okay, but I don't want to live in a risk-averse environment, where we don't challenge ourselves."
Later in the conversation, he summed up his approach: "I think relationships are huge. I want to create stability and confidence. I want to reengage our community and make the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs something that everybody feels connected to."
(Possible dumb item of business? Remove the word "Affairs" from its title. It sounds like you need a tuxedo or an escort from James Bond to visit. Just saying.)
Boilerplate from the press release:
Engstrom has deep experience and success working in the Seattle arts community. He has over a decade of grassroots arts and culture experience beyond consulting, having founded Static Factory Media, a multi-media artist development company, and acted as the Founding Director of Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. He has also served as a chair to the Seattle Arts Commission, and is currently a board member of One Reel and board President at Washington Bus Education Fund.
A number of accolades support his past work – City Arts Magazine named him “The Advocate” in December of last year, he was an Americans for the Arts Emerging Leader in 2009 and was also named to Puget Sound Business Journal’s “40 under 40” in 2009.
Engstrom holds a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Washington Evans School and a BA in Public Administration from Evergreen Community College.