In a field of bureaucrats, Cheryl dos Remedios is an inspiration.
She spearheaded the restoration of Herbert Bayer's modernist Earthworks park in Kent. She invented an NEA-funded bike tour of the truly great land art in South King County. She created an open competition and exhibition for artist-designed low-impact vehicles. She brought in Reel Grrls to make a film with Kent teenagers who are going hungry as the levels of poverty in South King County rise (below). She speaks out when an issue is important, rather than remaining safely silent.
"Cheryl's a very passionate person," says her boss, Ronda Billerbeck, Kent cultural programs manager. Dos Remedios has worked for Billerbeck at Kent for six years. "She really believes in the work that she does, so that makes her really effective at it."
But as of Thursday and through no fault of her own, dos Remedios is being laid off and her position is being cut. Facing a budget shortfall of $2 million, Kent's mayor has decided that Dos Remedios and her job have to go.
It's a weird decision in part because Kent needs a public-art manager more than other cities whose programs are funded by construction budgets (like Seattle's, Tacoma's, and most cities, actually). Kent's public art program is a flat $2 per capita fee. The money is not susceptible to economic crashes that bring construction to a halt. Because the gargantuan planning task of working with a major capital project isn't involved in Kent's commissioning of new works, it's easier to remain nimble and responsive to changing conditions in the culture—which is what dos Remedios did in responding to the increasing hunger problem.
Cuts undoubtedly have to happen. But they should be smart cuts. This is a dumb, sad cut.
There are four FTEs in Kent's arts department, says Mark Gerth, executive director of the Washington Arts Alliance. Nobody—me included—wants to advocate for somebody else to be cut. But "I have no idea why this position was targeted," Gerth says. It does feel senseless.
The November 1 layoff date is the final decision of the mayor and can't be changed. Dos Remedios will have to clean out her desk this week. But Gerth and others are advocating the Kent City Council for the position—and dos Remedios—to be reinstated in 2013.
I really hope it's something Kent's City Council will take into consideration. Dos Remedios's salary is about $70,000, Billerbeck says. It's not going to fill a $2 million hole.