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Message from the director: Celebrating 50 years of arts in Seattle and The Next Fifty

The 1962 World’s Fair put Seattle on the map, and this year Seattle Center celebrates the fair’s 50th anniversary with The Next Fifty. Six months of artworks, events and activities at the Center April 21 through Oct. 21 will mark the legacy the fair left to the region and the opportunities that lie ahead. For the celebration’s “Sustainable Futures Month,” we’re presenting six temporary artworks and performances that illustrate how contemporary artists are shaping the conversation around environmental sustainability.

Before the World’s Fair, when people thought of Seattle it was as a point of entry to the 19th-century gold rush. The fair branded Seattle as a timely place celebrating science and technology and opening the door to the future. Dusting off the ways of the Old West, the fair took on a space-age name: Century 21 Exposition.

In 1962, nearly 10 million people enjoyed a broad range of attractions, including more than 2,500 performing arts events with acts from around the world. The futuristically themed fair gave the city a 74-acre park devoted to history, science, arts and culture, and the Space Age. It also gave us the Seattle Repertory Theatre, the cultural fundraising organization Poncho, and the Horiuchi Mural, all celebrating 50th anniversaries this year. It gave us Seattle Opera and its home McCaw Hall (Mercer Arts Arena in 1962), KeyArena (formerly the Washington State Pavilion), the Intiman Theatre (then the World’s Fair Playhouse), and a “modern art pavilion” for the Seattle Art Museum.

The fair led us to cultural festivals, the Seattle Shakespeare Company, Seattle Children’s Theatre, the Experience Music Project, Bumbershoot, the Northwest Folklife Festival and Pacific Northwest Ballet and so much more!

The cultural legacy the fair left to the city was profound. Today, Seattle’s creative vitality is nearly three times the national average—among the highest in the nation—according to the recent Creative Vitality Index released by the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF). The measure is based on arts participation and employment. Nonprofit arts and arts-active organizations in Seattle earned $415 million in revenue in 2010. Ticket sales at Seattle’s live performing arts venues generated $193 million in revenues. That’s $235.17 per capita—nearly four-and-a-half times the national average.

Despite a down economy, we are a region of arts consumers. Overall participation in arts and culture activities in King County is 71 percent higher than the national average, according to a recent Local Arts Index report released by Americans for the Arts. County nonprofit arts organizations inject $254 per capita into the local economy compared to a national average of $58 per capita. And nonprofit arts revenues in King County are 248 percent higher than the national average.

And here’s more good news. We’re pleased to report that the governor signed Senate Bill 6574 last week, protecting up to $900,000 in estimated admission tax revenue to the city. The Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs receives 75 percent of admission tax revenues, which support our funding programs for Seattle’s arts and cultural organizations and artists.

Here’s to the future!

Vincent E. Kitch