Last Monday Seattle mayoral candidates Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan appeared at a public forum hosted by KEXP. Arts and the environment were combined as the topics of discussion, even though both aspects of civic life deserve their own separate debates.
A couple of days after the forum, I caught up with Moon—an urban planner whom I’ve known since serving as a panelist on her Future Seattle: A People’s Forum exhibit for the Frye Art Museum in 2015—to find out more about what her platform has to offer artists in Seattle.
You made a statement in the KEXP forum that I thought was pretty on point. You said, “Art is not entertainment for the wealthy to consume; it’s how we identify with ourselves, and how we resist when it’s time to resist.” What art have you seen in Seattle recently that you think embodies the truth of this statement?
At the Frye I saw To: Seattle, Subject: Personal, which featured work by C. Davida Ingram and Inye Wokoma, among others. I thought the piece with the black hoodie [by Mark Calderon] was just terrific, and it really spoke to me about what is wrong with our society, with institutionalized bigotry, with oppression. I was also thinking of the music of Kendrick Lamar.
I ran into you and your daughter in Pioneer Square recently. What do you notice about the differences between the popular culture of your youth and hers?
When I was young, the divide between my parents’ music and mine was very stark. They liked a lot of Louis Armstrong, a lot of swing music from the ’30s and ’40s. I was way more into punk rock. As it is now, my kids and I have the exact same taste in music. I think pop culture for my part is a much bigger part of their lives than it was for mine—it’s way more vivid and encompassing then when I was a kid.
I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the tools to actively participate in culture are more accessible. As somebody who was a freelance filmmaker for many years, I was happy to see your policy platform addressing worker protections for freelancers. How did that come about?
I was brainstorming, around Labor Day, all the ways to address those not in industries dominated by traditional unions, but also those in the gig economy, which can be brutal for young people. You have lack of benefits, non-payment of invoices and odd schedules. So I looked at the Freelancer’s Union and the “Freelance Bill of Rights,” and felt really strongly that we needed to start the conversation around implementing something similar here.
I once served as the outreach coordinator for the Office of Arts & Culture’s effort to turn King Street Station’s third floor into a hub for the arts economy. We were extremely deliberate in deploying the city’s Race & Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) in our decision making. You mentioned at the KEXP forum that you thought the RSJI toolkit was applied unevenly. Can you name some areas where the city needs to improve its equity focus?
Schools and housing, and where they intersect. With the Family and Education levy funding, we have to partner with educators and school leaders to make sure we’re not just using high-stakes test scores to gauge whether a program is working or not. In regards to housing, we have to do a much better job of working with communities impacted by displacement. We need to understand specifically what they need—I point to Liberty Bank and Centro de la Raza, and what they do in terms of direct service work from the ground up. The city has to keep refining that kind of model, because we’ve seen what happens when we let the free market decide: Money wins. And when money wins, we turn into a playground for the rich.
You’ve talked about how your style of leadership is extremely collaborative and based on conversations around the proverbial table.
You saw that in the work I’ve done with the Artist Coalition for Equitable Development, [a coalition of arts stakeholders working to mitigate the effects gentrification is having on communities of color]. I chimed in with some ideas I had about language and messaging, and worked with [organizer] Julie Chang Schulman to draft a letter that had some specific asks of the city. I was so happy to be at their rally on Sept. 9 [outside the Vulcan headquarters], and they’re right to apply pressure to Vulcan and Paul Allen and the role they’re playing in gentrification.
I wonder what happens when, in the middle of that collaborative approach, you’re dealing with a power player like Vulcan. I mean, they must know the negative economic impact they’re having on people of color in the Central District. What happens when you’re in the room with that kind of financial power?
If the community doesn’t get what they want the first time, they can do more work to come up with additional solutions. We have to say “Hey, Vulcan, here’s how you can be a hero and contribute to a place where you’re helping creative culture thrive.” This isn’t just about their bottom line—their bottom line is going to be fine [laughs]. How about investing in a place by helping bolster its creative brilliance? We have to start from that framework.