by Jen Graves
on Mon, Sep 23, 2013 at 2:44 PM
Last May, the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture sent out a press release that said the admissions tax was up in 2012—way up—and that revenues from Chihuly Garden & Glass and the Great Wheel were the bulk of the new money.
But I asked for a breakdown of the numbers, and it got a little less clear. Turns out the city is not allowed to divulge where the money actually comes from, due to taxpayer identity protection law.
The "ad" tax funds OAC and its programs. It's a five-percent tax on admissions at venues from nightclub to stadium to theater, and 75 percent of it goes to form OAC's budget.
Here are the numbers I was able to get (from the helpful and patient OAC spokeswoman Calandra Childers): 2010, $4.967 million (75 percent of total tax); 2011, $4.394 million; 2012, $5.300 million.
Childers said the tax is projected to grow at an average of around 2 percent a year through 2016. (I do not know what this is based on.)
"Reasons for [the 2012] increase include a better local economy, the opening of both the Chihuly Glass Museum and Seattle Great Wheel, and tax payments made in 2012 for prior years' activity," Childers wrote. "Tax payments made in 2012 for prior years' activity" means back tax payments coming in, but she was not at liberty to say how much that totaled, for the same privacy reasons.
Essentially, I think the Chihuly Glass Museum and the Seattle Great Wheel have raised some great money for the arts locally—yay! I think—and it's being spent not on giving bigger grants to museums and orchestras, but on making sure that every K-2 kid in Central Pathways schools gets an hour of music education a week this year.
Especially kids who are the least likely to get it, in the district's ongoing effort to close big and persistent socioeconomic gaps in supposedly "progressive" Seattle.
Study after study shows that in Seattle, education is not equal. Kids with poor families and black and Latino students suffer disproportionately from low-performing schools with no arts education. Arts education, in our dysfunctional system, is commonly not actually funded by the district but rather supported and paid for by parent-teacher associations (kind of like the ad-hoc system of school counselors that now exists, which is also deeply concerning). Our public school system looks very much, from certain angles, like a private school system.
A little temporary money going toward music classes is not much, but it's something. Five hundred thousand dollars of the seven-hundred-and-seventeen-thousand-dollar ad-tax increase is now, and through the 2014 school year, going to fund music education for K-2 students in the Central Pathways schools (the name used for the schools that feed into and out of Washington Middle School—from John Muir and Bailey Gatzert elementaries to Franklin and Garfield highs, which are generally lower performing on the front end but have great music programs in the later grades, meaning students that can get access to early private lessons have a huge advantage and that if students can get public lessons at that same early age, they, too, have something to work toward).
More good news is that the person managing the program is Lara Davis, who's been doing amazing work with Arts Corps for a while. (Randy Engstrom, the new-ish director at OAC, is surrounding himself with smart people: Eric Fredericksen on the waterfront, Matthew Richter and Tim Lennon on cultural spaces and events, Davis in arts education.) I wrote about why Arts Corps matters so much in Seattle here.
More than 40 percent of schools K-8 in Seattle reported having no certified arts instruction, "None":
"For Visual Arts, more than 40% of schools responded 'None'; for Music, more than 50% (except in the 4th and 5th grades where 72% of schools offer some Music); for Theatre, more than 80%; and Dance, more than 70%."
Now that the school year is underway, if I hear anything more conclusive or more interesting, I'll report back.
(This post has been updated since original publication.)