King County Council passes $782 million arts and culture levy

Levy is intended to increase access to science, heritage and the arts.

On Dec. 5, the King County Council approved a new levy that will provide nearly $800 million in projected funding for access to science, heritage and the arts in King County over the next seven years.

The Doors Open science, heritage and arts levy will fund equitable access, support programming in public schools, and increase tourism and revenue, and feed the workforce pipeline to the arts and culture sector through a 0.1% sales tax.

“The Council’s overwhelming support speaks to the legislation’s countywide benefits and resounding focus on equity,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the measure’s prime sponsor. “It will live up to its name by ensuring that new start-up organizations will receive opportunities for essential funding to open their doors, and that more than 500 arts, science, and heritage organizations will have the resources they need to keep their doors open.”

Co-sponsored by Councilmembers Claudia Balducci and Sarah Perry, the Doors Open program is part of a decade-plus long effort to provide stability and growth for the cultural sector. It arrives following the dramatic economic impacts the pandemic had on the arts and culture community.

Through an average annual cost of $40 per family, the county reports the levy will help the arts and culture community not only rebound from pandemic cuts and closures – particularly in marginalized or disadvantaged communities – but flourish to new levels with more funding than has ever been spent through public programs in King County.

By comparison, 4Culture, the designated funding agency for Doors Open, had expenditures of roughly $16 million in 2021. The measure builds on similar successful initiatives adopted locally in Tacoma and nationally in Denver, Colorado.

“Our arts, heritage, and science organizations create improved learning outcomes, provide access to good jobs, and help us develop a stronger economy and healthier communities,” Balducci said. “Doors Open will give people in every corner of King County more opportunities to explore and experience the arts and culture that enriches all of our lives.”

A full 15% of Doors Open expenditures will go to public school students, where art and music programs are being cut to balance budgets. Annually, that’s at least $12 million to support partnerships, field trips, before- and after-school programs, transportation and admission costs, internships, free or discounted ticket programs and more.

According to the county, funding through the program will be dedicated to geographic equity, supporting the communities most hurt and isolated by the pandemic and its ongoing impacts, while also seeding new funding to grow additional cultural centers across King County.

“This bill’s focus on geographic equity is so essential to organizations like ours. Here in Auburn, our community impact is every bit as important and worthy of support as larger budget organizations in metropolitan areas. The passage of this legislation validates the role we play and the impact we have. We’re grateful and hopeful for the future,” said Rachel Perry, executive director, Auburn Symphony Orchestra.

Businesses rely on arts and culture organizations to drive tourism and revenue. The arts and culture sector accounts for 10.8% of the state’s gross domestic product, roughly $72.8 billion. The county says Doors Open spending will provide a direct return on investment for the local economy.