Create Equitable & Inclusive Development in Seattle
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The first annual Upstream, a 3-day music festival and summit owned and spearheaded by Seattle real estate mogul and billionaire Paul Allen’s private investment firm Vulcan, will be held May 11-13th in Pioneer Square. The summit is designed to “give emerging local artists the resources they need to navigate and thrive in the new music economy.” However the artist/musician class in Seattle- the one that Vulcan intends to support and invest in- is being economically displaced at a growing pace. In recognition that Vulcan and Paul Allen have the resources and opportunity to set an exciting new precedent for equitable development, we offer the following suggestions for commitments that would truly preserve Seattle art, music, and culture:
1. Work with Africatown and a community-nominated stakeholders committee to integrate collective community ownership into Promenade, Yesler Terrace, and future real estate projects via models such as the Liberty Bank MOU and/or the development of community land trusts.
2. Commit to mitigating displacement from all past and current Vulcan development projects by offering permanently affordable housing based on neighborhood median income above and beyond HALA and/or SHA agreements.
3. Commit to offering affordable spaces for music rehearsal, art studios, or culture collaboratives within Vulcan real estate developments with priority access for entities representing vulnerable populations.
4. Build on the work of Musicians Unions and Seattle Music Commission to fund an analysis of music impact data with race and social impact tool/lens to identify clearly who benefits and who is left out of the music economy and strategies for equitable participation.
Our Open Letter to Paul Allen and Vulcan Inc.
Dear Paul Allen & Vulcan Inc.,
As Upstream artists and supporters, we first thank you for your efforts toward “giving emerging local artists the resources they need to navigate and thrive in the new music economy” and for the opportunity to participate in this upcoming music festival and summit. Generating livable wages for musicians in Seattle is an important cause. While Seattle’s music industry has grown to an estimated $4.3B in total economic output on the backs of working musicians, we have not shared in these gains. Aiming to improve disparity here is a noble undertaking that reflects what Seattle Times called your “music-nerd roots.”
Art and music, however, are not solely amenities for consumption and leisure, but rather valuable cultural investments for our communities’ futures. They are essential activities of expression, of resistance, of creative dialog that connect us as humans and spark us all to imagine better realities. This is why we are taking our participation in this Vulcan venture as an opportunity to address the urgent need for equitable growth and development- before it’s too late.
The reality is, for a city that prides itself as one of world class art and music, the economic conditions in Seattle are brutal for artists. We are a rapidly gentrifying city, where rental prices are increasing at a rate 4x the national average, and considering that every $100 increase in median rent leads to a 15% increase of the homeless population, it's no surprise we are currently experiencing a crisis. Struggling to survive financially is exhausting, and more of us are being pushed out of the city because we just can’t afford it. Not the rents. Not the rehearsal or studio spaces. Not the cost of living. Not the toxic stress of being broke all the time. Focusing only on how musicians and artists can better monetize our work in the new digital world without examining the context of our city’s basic hostility to anyone who doesn’t earn $100,000 a year isn't going to make much real progress in preserving a healthy local music culture.
The intersection of these issues, while initially elusive, become glaring when considering the scale of your two upcoming real estate projects in the historically Black neighborhood of Seattle’s Central District: Yesler Terrace and the Promenade. For well over a decade now, the Black community has been pushed out of the very neighborhood where it gave birth to many cultural movements that grew to fuel the local music economy. African-Americans and the CD have played a major role in the development of Seattle's musical legacy, yet still have minimal representation/benefit in industry economics. Black venues and events have been targeted and shut down. The economy of Black music is not controlled by and produces minimal benefit to the Black community itself which still suffers from systemic disparity on top of displacement.
Though Vulcan has held meetings and contracted individuals to identify concessions for those concerned about the Promenade, this is only the first step in investing in community vision for thriving in place and mitigating displacement. Your plan to include a small percentage of temporarily “below market value” units, the bare minimum of a city requirement which allows you to collect tax subsidies, is inadequate towards long term affordability as well. We are asking you to dig deeper and codify commitments to these neighborhoods and to the artist/musician communities that are being priced out of them.
You have the opportunity and resources to set a new precedent. Will you emerge as leaders of innovation by pioneering a new era of equitable development? Or will you defer to the superficial tactics of honoring the Central District symbolically without function? We, artists and supporters of Upstream, urge you to make the right decision. If we want art, culture, and music to be vivid elements of our city’s daily life, let’s not put that burden on the artists themselves to innovate and disrupt their way to survival. Let’s establish that art-making is our shared responsibility. Let’s draw a line in the sand now, and commit to keeping space for art makers and musicians. Let’s treat art as essential to examining and understanding and imagining our life here together, not solely as an amenity to consume.
We have tremendous gratitude to you for supporting local music, creating space to shed light on issues impacting artists, and bringing in some of the best and brightest among us to inform the conversation. We hope you and Vulcan will take this statement and endorsements of it as an opportunity to broaden this exploration of inventing a future where artists can not only survive but thrive.
Upstream Artist Coalition for Equitable Development
Acacia (Acacia the Queen) Porter
Adrian "Sagenomad" Shaw
Adrienne La Faye
Alexander (Fantasy A) Hubbard
Amy L. Piñon.
Astro King Phoenix
Caleb Talbert (Luna God)
Chance Christopher Crafton (Ancient Mariner)
Chimaera of Groundswell Arts Collective
Christianne (Donormaal) Karefa-Johnson
Christopher (Zen Seizure) Williams
Geneiva Arunga (Dadabassed)
Geo (Geologic) Quibuyen
Gabrielle (Gifted Gab) Kadushin
J'Sawes of the BLEAU
Julie Chang Schulman
Joseph SCRiBE Cabey
Kadence Arelle Mercy
Keosha (Lovely) Fredricks
Larry Mizell Jr.
Macedonia Dash López
Matt (Spekulation) Watson
Matthew Slone Cherkasky
Nikkita “KO” Oliver
Olivia Hatfield (Guayaba)
Robby Snow Araless
Ronald (Ready Ron) Wilson
Stas thee Boss
Talena Lachelle Queen
Taylar Elizza Beth
Tim Basaraba (TBASA)
Zach Claflin (Hekl the Mad Scientist)
African Youth United
Arunga Music LLC
Beat Tape Bandits
Black Magic Noize
Coalition for Inclusive Development
Crowd Control Collective
Filthy Fingers United
Her Best Self
Indie Genius Media
Pacific Rim Solidarity Network
Peace & Red Velvet
Pound of Fresh
Rhyme & Reason
Seattle Fair Trade Music
Seattle Musicians Association Local 76-49
Stay Happy Collective
The Collective Gathering
The Seattle Peoples Party
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