Seattle Launches New Deal-Style Jobs Program for Artists

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Community organization Sawhorse Revolution pairs high school students with architects and carpenters. The group has partnered with the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture in the past. (photo by Jenny Crooks; all images courtesy Seattle Office of Arts and Culture)

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the arts and culture sectors, the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture (ARTS) will distribute $2 million to create jobs for unemployed and underemployed artists and cultural workers.

In late April, the city launched Hope Corps, which will employ artists for terms of six or 12 months. Employment is not meant to be full-time, and workers will make up to $30,000 a year (at a minimum rate of $30 an hour).

The project is spearheaded by ARTS Creative Economy Advocate Alex Rose, who told Hyperallergic she developed the project to “leverage the creativity and brilliance of our local creative workforce to address the civic needs of our times: public health, mental health and healing, food security, storytelling, social connection and belonging, and arts education.”

A study published in January showed that over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, cultural organizations in Washington State decreased their operating budgets by 20%. Nearly half of those organizations cut staff or pay, and employment in the Washington arts industry is still 25% below its pre-pandemic level.

“These programs will employ creative workers, demonstrate how they are embedded in the social-economic fabric, and reinforce the fact that Seattle is flourishing and meshing its creatives into its workforce, thereby into its social structures,” royal alley-barnes, acting director of ARTS, told Hyperallergic in a statement.

The city of Seattle is not employing workers directly — instead, individual artists and cultural organizations can apply for $15,000 to $300,000 in funding for projects that create jobs for creative workers.

Seattle joins other cities in creating jobs for artists that directly benefit the public: New York’s City Artist Corps gave more than 3,000 artists $5,000 grants to create public art projects, San Francisco’s Creative Corps employed artists to create public health messaging, and Santa Monica’s Art of Recovery funded social-impact arts projects.

Donnitta Sinclair and Keisha McGee, both mothers of sons lost to gun violence, pictured in front of an art installation of 1,405 roses, each representing a gunshot fired in King County, Washington last year. The installation was conceived for Beloved, a project that is part of Hope Corps. (photo by Erik Kalligraphy)

Hope Corps is “somewhat inspired by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration,” according to a press release. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed tens of thousands of artists to create public murals and sculptures across the country, among them Jackson Pollock, Jacob Lawrence, and Walker Evans.

In addition to Hope Corps’s $2 million, ARTS has put $250,000 toward Beloved, a 12-week arts program that focuses on gun violence. The program was launched in February and employs 25 artists.

Applications for Hope Corps are open until June 6, and successful applicants will be notified on August 31.

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