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BUDGET: Arts fuel economies, communities

Letter by Phyllis A. Harrison, Fox Island on March 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm with 19 Comments »
March 4, 2011 1:39 pm

Clearly, easy budget cuts are history and we are looking at painful cuts to vital services at every level – federal, state and local. But before we dismiss cultural programs like public radio and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) – what The News Tribune agrees are “nice-to-haves” (We agree, 3-3), let’s take a little closer look at two local examples of the ramifications of NEA support.

Small grants from the NEA Folk Arts Program led to the opening of the Commencement Bay Maritime Center in 1995. The once-deserted warehouse is now the highly successful Foss Waterway Seaport and a major regional attraction.

In the late 1970s, a public/private partnership involving arts funding from a variety of sources including the NEA launched the restoration of the Pantages Theater, which served as model and inspiration for Save Our Station and the rehabilitation/adaptive reuse of Union Station.

Union Station launched the revitalization of the southern end of downtown, making it an attractive candidate for a new history museum and the University of Washington Tacoma branch campus.

A crumbling warehouse, a dilapidated theater, a moldering train station. They might have been rubble. Arts funding helped turn them into engines for rebirth and revitalization.

Yes, these “nice-to-haves” feed our minds, our spirits and our souls. They also fuel our communities and economies.

Leave a comment Comments → 19
  1. To see a future with out art watch ‘1984″ or THX 1138″

  2. While it’s nice to have those buildings somewhat restored and operating, it’s quite a stretch to claim any of them are “highly successful”.

    Manure was used as fuel not so long ago…

  3. alindasue says:

    Manure still is used a fuel in many parts of the world. Manure is also used as fertilizer, even in this part of the word.

    Art, even though it only be “manure” to some, really has been the fertilizer for revitalizing our downtown.

    I lived downtown before the Pantages (called “Roxy” back then) and the Rialto were renovated. It was grungy, prostitutes on Pacific were a normal site, and an increasing number of buildings were boarded up. Parking was free because “available parking for customers” wasn’t an issue. The one non-residential hotel downtown was constantly struggling.

    These days, downtown Tacoma is a destination city. We have two major art museums, the state’s history museum, a convention center and enough traffic to support not just one, but two major hotels right in the middle of the downtown core. Major colleges and universities have opened campusses there! Do you think any of that would have happened without the arts?

    Back then, we lived downtown in a house that should have been condemned because that was all we could afford. Now people are buying $300,000+ condos barely two blocks from where that house stood. The arts, more than any other factor, have made downtown Tacoma a cool place to be now.

  4. I’ve worked there before and after… it’s not a “destination” city and the art museums cannot support themselves…
    btw… have you noticed all the vacant condos??? Good golley miss molley… and the water damage from the global warming (er change climate what ever) has really made the sale of those “destination” quarters hard to sell…

  5. I chose to locate a business in Tacoma due, in a large part, to the museums and the apparent support for the arts offered by the city. I closed my business and moved due, in a large part, to the realization that the City of Destiny is the little train that couldn’t. Efforts to revitalize (or maybe just “vitalize”) Tacoma are destined to fail largely because there is a large proportion of the citizens of the city who want it to stay exactly the same as it is. They are happy to be miserable about the state of things and will fight any efforts to change.

  6. I work in downtown Tacoma, and giving the lack of vehicle traffic during none working times, thing that would help (IMO) is to reset traffic lights to flashing red and yellow on weekends and after 9pm

  7. alindasue says:

    If you worked in downtown Tacoma both before and after the renovations began, how could you not notice the huge improvement? Do you really not remember the days when Pacific Avenue was known largely for its prostitutes?

    Yes, there are some vacant condos downtown. However, is the percentage of downtown units that stay vacant any higher than in any other area of around here? In a weak economy, when many homes are being forclosed on, units for sale are going to sit empty for a while. That doesn’t change the fact that people are investing in the city now. Expensive condos are selling – albeit, slowly in the current economy – where rundown buildings and sub-standard houses once sat.

    Museums rarely do support themselves fully, but they do much to improve the quality of life for everyone and make the city more attractive to both businesses and tourists.

    There has to be some traffic downtown or there wouldn’t be this need to charge for parking and establish a two hour limit in order to create enough empty parking spaces for customers. If you are talking about after business hours traffic, I’ve driven in and around downtown Seattle many times. After 7pm, the traffic there is just as light as it is in Tacoma.

  8. poll2020 says:

    I agree 100% with you. I can’t believe how long those lights are waiting for no one.

    whatido seems to want perfection. Tacoma isn’t a destination city (in your eyes)? Then we shouldn’t have done anything to revitalize the city? Right.
    Empty condos? Were they all for waste? No – look at all the condos that DID sell and are occupied. The country ran into a recession.
    Downtown is immensely improved since I was a kid. (I know people who do visit Tacoma as a destination city, by the way.)

  9. What, there is a good amount of traffic between the AM and PM commutes, but after about 6 pm on weekdays, and all day on week ends, traffic is very light, and poll2020 points out the lights have very long cycles.

    Poll: my wife remembers, and is always, telling me how before the Tac Mall opened, downtown was the major shopping center. The same thing happened to Spokane.

  10. poll2020 says:

    Ha ha – I was a kid *after* the Tacoma Mall opened :-)

  11. Rollo_Tomassi says:

    What is it about art majors that makes them think they also have mastery of economics? They have a tendency to substitute creative thinking for sober analysis and think they can explain how money works on a large scale, even though they can’t comprehend it on a smaller personal scale.

    When artists try to explain to you how economics works, all you can do is just nod your head and smile until they move on.

  12. Poll, my wife is a bit younger than I am.

    R_T, I don’t understand you comment.

  13. R_T


    Economics is the softest of the soft sciences. Yes, they have all sorts of graphs and numbers and use BIG COLLEGE WORDS! to obfuscate and try to confuse people into thinking that their version of voodoo is scientific.

    Successful artists are entrepreneurs making a living selling something that the economists say doesn’t work within their models. Successful artists know a lot about business.

  14. Why am I not surprised ?

    The letter writer puts forth a false dichotomy that arts somehow are responsible for the revitalization of the Tacoma downtown.
    The other false dichotomy is that it’s a “destination” city.

    Yes, downtown is immensly improved… but it sure wasn’t the “arts” that is responsible. Just because you “know people who do visit Tacoma as a destination city” does not make it one… unless you are redifining the term.

    Thanks for trying.

  15. omega629 says:

    Tacoma is a destination city??? hahahahhahah. When did this happen?

  16. BlaineCGarver says:

    In downtown Tacoma, a showcase Bowling Alley/Lounge/Sports Bar would be a bigger pull and money maker than that other stuff. I’ve been to Pantages several times, mostly for Nutcracker, and I can tell you that if I spend money again in Tacoma, it will not be for some amature night boonswoggle show.

  17. alindasue says:

    Mr. Garver,
    I’ve been to Pantages and Rialto several times also, although I haven’t yet seen The Nutcracker there. I have seen a couple plays (professional productions, not amature) and a world famous Celtic folk group there. (There’ve been other world famous musicians performing there. I just haven’t been to see them.)

    What downtown – or the general Tacoma area, for that matter – doesn’t need is another sports bar. There’s already several lounges downtown. After 8pm, the theaters and the restaurants with lounges appear to be all that’s still open down there. Seattle has the same problem.

    The problem with the lights downtown is that they are timed to synch with each other – have been for as long as I can remember. They need to update the system so that it switches to a sensor trigger at night. That would cost money to set up though.

    Like your wife, I remember going downtown to shop at Sears, JC Penny, and Woolworths when I was a kid. There was a lunch counter we ate at in Woolworths. Rhodes was there too, but I only remember going in once because it was very expensive. By the time my husband and I moved onto Market Street in the mid-80s though, only Woolworths was left.

    If it wasn’t the arts that triggered the improvements downtown, then tell me, please, what was it? It wasn’t the office buildings; they were there before, during, and after the “prostitutes on Pacific” days. There’s still no major anchor stores, so it couldn’t have been that. The UW campus didn’t open until after things started to improve, and neither did the newer more expensive housing. So what was the trigger if it wasn’t the arts?

    As for calling Tacoma a “destination city” – In the AAA tourbook for Washington/Oregon, besides the basic city descriptions there are three full pages of places-to-see listings. Five of those places have “gem” status, meaning that that place is worth the trip to see. Two of those “gems”, Washington State History Museum and Museum of Glass, are downtown.

  18. Alindasue – lights in sync – maybe at one time, but all to often they seem to be in sync to hinder traffice flow (IMO based on personal observation and exprience).

  19. alindasue says:

    That’s because they are synched. It’s always been (in my memory) that you hardly hit any of the signals on red or you hit just about all of them.

    The theory, as I heard it years ago, is that if you start from a green light and go exactly the speed limit through town (assuming traffic will let you), you should be able to go straight through across downtown without stopping. Then again, that theory is probably as outdated now as the old synched lights system has become.

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