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Mayor’s 2021 Budget Priorities and ARTS

A boat full of people on the ocean. Many fish swim below.
Yola by Melissa Cole, Textured acrylic on wood with fused glass and coin accents, 2017

Today, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan is releasing her 2021 Proposed Budget. This budget comes during a series of unprecedented challenges for the City. A pandemic, an economic recession, a civil rights reckoning, climate related wildfires, and failing infrastructure in our City have all combined to make this budget unlike any other in our history. Our revenue challenges are a direct result of the pandemic causing a significant and immediate slowdown in economic activity. In 2020, we froze spending, delayed projects and spent down our one-time revenue sources to delay impacts to the City.

The Mayor’s 2021 budget prioritizes maintaining investments in community that promote equity as well as critical funding to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. To the extent possible, this budget maintains core services in an effort to minimize the impact of filling a more than $300 million dollar shortfall to our City budget.

The following is a summary of the Office of Arts & Culture’s (ARTS) key changes in the 2021 Proposed Budget:

ARTS is funded by Admission Tax revenue and the 1% for Art Program. This funding supports arts-related programs and capital expenditures to keep artists living and working in Seattle, builds community through arts and cultural events and the placement of public art, and increases arts opportunities for youth. ARTS commits to an anti-racist work practice that centers the creativity and leadership of people of color – those most impacted by structural racism – to move toward systems that benefit us all.

Currently, ARTS’ Admission Tax budget is based on revenue collected two years prior (e.g. 2020’s budget is based on the amount of Admission Tax collected in 2018). The lack of events in 2020 due to COVID meant that the department would face very steep cuts for 2021-2022 to manage the revenue losses that would hit the Arts and Culture Fund in 2022. To address this shortfall, beginning in 2022, ARTS’ Admission Tax budget will switch from appropriating based on revenue collections two years prior to appropriating based on projected collections in the same year as the City receives them. This change greatly reduces the size of the cuts needed for the Arts and Culture Fund to maintain a positive balance, assuming events return in 2022. Shifting to concurrent year funding will also bring Arts and Culture Fund budgeting practice in line with that of the General Fund.

In the post-COVID-19 world, Admission Tax revenue is expected to be lower in the coming years than previously projected. Along with the rest of the City, ARTS will need to do less operationally to maintain fiscal balance. The 2021 Proposed Budget reduces ARTS’ Admission Tax expenditures by $1.5 million (a 12% reduction relative to the 2020 Adopted Budget). The $1.5 million in program reductions is a combination of administrative savings and generally small reductions to a number of programming categories. Two of the larger reductions include a $500,000 reduction in Cultural Facilities Fund Grants because very few community organizations indicated an interest in applying for capital improvement funds at this time, and a $237,000 reduction in Seattle Park District funding for arts and cultural activities in parks. We hope to restore some amount of funding to both of these programs at some point in the future when the economy has recovered, and more funding becomes available.

To minimize impacts on the community, ARTS undertook a thorough and democratic process relying on discussions with staff who are closest to the marginalized communities ARTS focuses on serving.

Over the next two months, the City Council will review the Mayor’s proposed budget. Final adoption of the budget is expected on Monday, November 23. More information about details in the budget can be found at and you can also direct any broader budget questions to