Olympia City Council has approved a $412, 500 fund to support struggling local theater organizations and invest in downtown Olympia's programs.
According to Olympia Economic Development Director Mike Reid at the Olympia City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 16, performing arts, live theater, and dance still struggle to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
Reid spoke about the positive development happening downtown and the struggle of some areas, specifically the performance venues and community theaters, to recover from the pandemic.
"It is not unique to Olympia,” Reid said, “That is a nationwide trend."
Reid referred to Impact Experience data that shows public parks, zoos, public beaches, aquariums, museums, and sports arenas are all back to pre-pandemic normal levels, while movie theaters, concert halls, and other performing arts venues are still significantly below COVID levels.
"There's a whole host of ideas about why that may be. The biggest one, it's indoor, and you're seated," he said, adding that the pandemic has shifted the types of cultural entities people prefer to visit.
Reid recommended a funding package for the city's theaters before the city council.
Olympia has four theaters, three of which do not receive assistance from the city, to which Reid proposed awarding with funding. These are:
Reid said they intentionally excluded the Washington Center for Performing Arts from the list because it receives support from the city and contributions from the Lodging Tax.
According to Reid, he interviewed and met with all three organizations and came up with an appropriate budget for their needs.
To obtain the funding, Reid said the organizations are required to submit an annual report for ten years identifying efforts and activities in the following areas:
"Failure to report what they are doing will disqualify them from future funding such as Lodging Tax, Cultural Access Tax, and city grants," Reid told the councilmembers.
He clarified that the organizations could receive the full funding after submitting their first report.
Olympia Film Society Executive Director Audrey Henley and Harlequin Productions Producing Artistic Director Aaron Lamb both agreed to the city's requirements of submitting an annual report.
The collected information from the annual report, Reid said, could be submitted to the Cultural Access Program for their reference.
"From an economic development standpoint, [I want to] understand better the role these organizations play in our community," Reid said.
Reid wanted to know more about the emerging artists and arts entrepreneurs these organizations support.
He added that the report could help the Creative District identify venues and spaces needing improvement.
Reid is also recommending a series of investments in the following programs:
The funding will come from the Economic Development Reserves, which currently has over $2 million.
The fund is reserved for economic development initiatives and was the source of funding for the majority of the pandemic-related recovery program.
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Just spit balling here but is seems to me that throwing money at this issue is ill advised. My family and many friends don't go into downtown Olympia because of the extreme nature of the addicted and violent homeless population there. I even know of formerly thriving businesses that are moving in the direction of anywhere but Olympia's downtown because it isn't safe there for their property, personnel or customer base. Tenino, Tumwater, Lacey are all better options that Oly these days. It is unclear to me why Olympia didn't choose to use that funding to marry to other state and federal grant dollars to resolve the real problem. Needles in the parking lots and feces in the doorways while being threatened by the mentally ill is not a scene that we choose to endure in order to experience entertainment.
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