Arts-oriented development has long been a central part of city building agendas as a way to grow economies, revive dilapidated corridors, stimulate neighborhood change, attract educated workers, and showcase cultural stature. These arts spaces take on many forms and are diverse in design, location, discipline, and target audience, and they range from mega arts institutions and arts districts to live/work spaces and artisan cooperatives. These projects are increasingly popular but risky as fewer resources exist, philanthropic patterns are changing, and criticisms abound about distributing funds to the arts in a fragile economy. Despite this instability or perhaps because of it, arts organizations are building new facilities or expanding existing sites to keep pace with changing economic and community development expectations. Their capital campaigns compete with other arts and non-arts groups for traditional investors in the private, public, and community spheres to lessen institutional risk and to ensure implementation. In particular, arts and civic leaders have courted and leveraged corporate dollars from philanthropic and marketing divisions, and in many instances, these public/private partnerships have been controversial. However, it is unclear if arts organizations and corporations still share a mutual interest in arts development. Or more broadly, has the city building agenda for the arts changed in the 21st century, and if so, what does this mean for planning?
In this paper, I engage these conversations by asking two questions: how has the current economic crisis affected arts development in metropolitan regions in the United States, and how have arts organizations and their constituencies responded to these fluctuations beyond common budgetary and administrative steps. To answer these questions, my research examines the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) – an organization that in the early 2000s partnered with Washington Mutual to develop an innovative high-rise complex that allowed the corporate headquarters to centralize its workforce and gave the museum the ability to phase its growth in a conservative fashion. The unique partnership – once lauded as a model for arts development – fell apart when Washington Mutual collapsed in 2008 leaving SAM severely in debt and concerned about its survival.
My work relies on qualitative and quantitative data from interviews, site visits, financial statements, and media coverage to track and analyze SAM’s development partnership with Washington Mutual and with other corporate entities. My findings demonstrate that the economic crisis has shifted the way arts development occurs and will likely continue to evolve even if the economy continues to stabilize. Furthermore this study sheds light on how arts organizations as anchor institutions adapt to changes and attempt to be resilient in fluctuating political, economic, and social circumstances. This is particularly important in a climate of dwindling public support combined with growing tension about the role of arts in city building. While questions remain about effective strategies for leveraging corporate resources for building arts development projects, my research creates a platform for studying arts development.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/amanda_johnson1/27/