This city boasts the Seattle Repertory Theater, a regional company that has a national following and is the proud owner of a Tony Award. Washington, D.C., has Arena Stage, which has set the pace for regional theaters for 50 years and has its own Tony.
In the midst of downtown here, there is a new home for the Seattle Symphony, Benaroya Hall, which operated at 92 percent capacity its first season. In the District, the Kennedy Center Concert Hall has been completely redone and operates at about 90 percent capacity.
There are many other similarities between the two communities. Both have flourishing cultural scenes with nationally known institutions. Both are built around core cities of a little more than half a million people. Both are among the top U.S. cities in per capita support for the arts. Yet there is a major difference: In many ways, Seattle does a much better job of raising private money for local arts.
D.C. philanthropists do help support national institutions like the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art. And there is nothing in Seattle to match those showplaces. But if you look at Seattle's support for local arts organizations--repertory theater, the symphony, the opera and dance--the District falters.
What can we learn from Seattle?
Interviews with arts leaders in both cities suggest several factors are involved in Seattle's relative strength. The most obvious is that the District's local institutions are handicapped by being in the shadow of the national establishments. It's tough for the Arlington County Cultural Affairs Division or Studio Theatre to compete with the fund-raising muscle of, say, the Kennedy Center. And many D.C. benefactors seem to follow the lead of the private foundations and federal policymakers who are concerned with social issues like disadvantaged youths.
Seattle also has had the good luck to be the major city closest to Bill Gates's wallet. But the city on Puget Sound has other advantages.
"We do have a remarkable audience. And no one knows why," says Speight Jenkins, executive director of the Seattle Opera. "It rains so much in the winter, people want to go somewhere. We are just a going people and people have a grasp that one can be an opera lover, a baseball, a theater and a basketball lover."
And finally, Seattle has built a strong tradition of private giving for the arts that is not an intrinsic part of the D.C. corporate culture. Many of the Pacific Northwest's corporate giants--Boeing and the clutch of technology companies, as well as Safeco, Weyerhauser and Costco--are on board.
"All told, all the sectors, public and private, will have given one-half billion dollars toward construction of arts facilities since 1990," says Peter F. Donnelly, president of the Corporate Council for the Arts, a private organization that distributes individual and corporate contributions in the Seattle area. "There is a terrific infusion of money."
In fact, corporations gave $8 million to arts groups in King and Pierce counties, the area that includes Seattle, in 1997. A survey found that the local institutions also received $19 million in in-kind gifts, such as audits and catering. The largest portion of money taken in by local arts groups, according to an economic impact survey paid for by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, was $96 million in earned income, mostly from ticket and retail sales, supplemented by $13.1 million from individuals and $14 million from county and city governments.
"What they are doing is exactly what should happen here," says Jennifer Cover Payne, executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington, D.C. The nonprofit regional group has been working with corporations to increase their financial and personal participation on the arts scene, and has started some successful programs, such as Business Volunteers for the Arts. The interest in doing an economic impact survey for the capital region has been there for a long time. "This is data we don't have," Payne says. The government spending from the six jurisdictions of greater Washington, $12 million, almost matches the two counties in the Seattle study.
In the Washington, D.C., region, Seattle envy abounds. Arts administrators like Al Maitland, the executive director of the Prince George's Arts Council, have been studying that city's success. "I liked the linkage between the business community and the government. They believe in business activism," he says. Mary Toth, president of Maryland Citizens for the Arts, has been promoting the Seattle model and emphasizing that the cooperation between arts and business has made arts groups better entrepreneurs.
Increasingly, Seattle's experience could be a profitable lesson for the District as the booming high-tech firms of the Virginia and Maryland suburbs become an increasingly important sector of the economy.
Here are some of the things Seattle has done that have no parallel in the District:
* A county hotel-motel tax has raised $25 million for arts and heritage organizations in the past nine years.
* The Corporate Council for the Arts, a fund set up like United Way, has raised $40 million over the past 30 years, with two-thirds of the money coming from corporations. It is the largest source of operating grants for arts organizations in the region. This year it distributed nearly $3 million, an increase of 9.3 percent over the previous year.
* The city contributed $41 million for the cost of the concert hall and pays rent in other locations for several groups.
* With support of Boeing, the CCA in 1991 established a Building for the Arts program, and lobbied the Legislature, which now provides money for up to 15 percent of the cost of local arts projects. Now the program is a line item in the state budget and has distributed $30 million.
* The symphony and opera, along with the Corporate Council, own a commercial classical radio station that was given to them by a local family. It yielded $750,000 for the three groups last year.
* The largest fund-raising auction for local arts in the world takes place in Seattle and has distributed $23 million in 37 years.
There are other public sources. The Seattle Arts Commission builds upon its $2.2 million budget with proceeds from a "One Percent for Art" program. The city requires that 1 percent of capital costs of new construction be set aside for public art projects; the program has paid for some 1,600 pieces of public art in the city.
This support doesn't mean that Seattle's arts groups haven't battled for survival. In the mid-1980s, many arts groups were struggling and enlisted the help of the National Arts Stabilization Fund to overhaul their finances. It worked.
Yet in Seattle the corporate leadership is organized and out front. "We are persuaded by the notion that a healthy community is what our people want. We know the arts are good for the community," says John D. Warner, the senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Boeing Corp., the area's largest employer. The aerospace giant gave 20 to 25 percent of its $38 million in charitable dollars directly to the arts last year. Boeing also established a foundation so that during lean years for the company, the giving doesn't decline. "The worst thing we could do is to be cyclical in our giving," says Warner.
Now arts administrators are trying to tap the younger tycoons. "There is an interest in looking at the new wealth. We have a number of new millionaires who have already retired and are looking for philanthropy causes," says Wendy Ceccherelli, executive director of the city's arts commission.
In addition, corporate leaders aren't afraid to show their political muscle. When Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) took over the appropriations committee that manages the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts, he was perceived as a critic of the agency. Speight Jenkins and others went to work. They succeeded and now Gorton gets awards from arts groups for his support.
And, perhaps most important, Seattle is way ahead in telling its story. Because of the survey paid for by Microsoft's Allen, Seattle officials argue that nonprofit arts generate $559 million in business activity annually, that there are as many as 9,000 people a night downtown for arts activities, and that arts facilities worth $600 million are going up.
Jenkins, the opera director, says even though the companies have been generous with donations, they still have to believe in the projects. "When you are talking, you can't discount the value of the education program. You have to tell the corporations the reason we are doing education is because the schools aren't doing it, and we can't do it unless we have performances on the stage," he says.
In the District, arts leadership is solid, working through company foundations, lending support to fund-raisers and specific events. Fannie Mae and Washingtonpost.com, for example, underwrite the free nightly Millennium Stage programs at the Kennedy Center. Target, the Minnesota-based retailer, backs the Kennedy Center annual Open House and is a major donor to the restoration of the Washington Monument.
Washington and its residents benefit from an unusual pyramid of funding. Since the District does not receive state funding, Congress developed a special appropriation called the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs Program. In fiscal 1999 the fund divided its $7 million among 20 groups, both national and local, ranging from the Choral Arts Society to the Corcoran Gallery.
The local organizations are helped by the reconstituted D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which has a budget of $3.1 million, plus $750,000 for public art. The organization, which gives grants to local groups and artists, had a life-threatening cut of 50 percent in 1995 and is rebuilding. Without any tax program, the commission is studying the feasibility of a license tag for the arts, with the fees going back to the commission.
Other new ideas are being tested. The United Arts Organization of Greater Washington, a federation of 51 organizations, last year raised $604,000 through workplace pledges.
The Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington brings together the arts, business, government and philanthropic groups for forums, technical exchanges, job banks and general assessments of the health of the arts.
The Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, a nonprofit collection of 110 local and corporate foundations that gave $300 million in 1998 for a wide variety of causes, makes a point to tell its members the arts need a piece of the pie. Right now 27 of the association's members give to the arts. Recently the group invited Bill Ivey, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, to have a breakfast conversation on the topic.
Though not on the Seattle level, most major corporations in the region have giving programs, but many are directed to organizations that relate to their business. Sallie Mae, the country's largest guarantor of student loans, supports arts where education is a strong component; recipients have included the Levine School of Music and Duke Ellington School for the Arts. PEPCO gives $2.6 million locally, but its priorities are youth, education, seniors, health and environment.
Some are energetic arts supporters. The Washington Post Co. gave the arts $560,000 last year. Freddie Mac gives $125,000 directly to arts groups. Many, like Marriott Corp., take a hands-on approach by serving on boards and lending executives to arts groups.
But arts supporters are worried that the planned merger of Exxon and Mobil might change Fairfax-based Mobil's generosity to local causes. It gave $700,000 to the arts in the Washington area last year.
So new strategies are emerging.
The Wolf Trap Park for the Performing Arts, only a few miles from the high-tech villages of Northern Virginia, is inviting younger executives to its events. "The high-tech companies are just getting started themselves and these are young companies with young CEOS," notes Terrence Jones, president of Wolf Trap. The arts center has tried things that might appeal to the younger tycoons who are not part of the black-tie set: a party in conjunction with a Philip Glass performance last year, a golf tournament and an auction. The computer elite of Northern Virginia, Jones notes, make up "one of the fastest growing elements of the corporate community. For instance, AOL has 7,000 employees. That is a lot of potential patrons and customers. So if it doesn't become a corporate relationship, then they are still consumers."
The word is getting through at some companies. Even though the majority of their charity dollars go to education programs, officials at the Lockheed Martin Foundation, the charity arm of the Bethesda-based aeronautics giant, are joining more arts boards. Locally they give 4 percent of their grants, about $500,000, to arts programs. "We try to provide leadership," says Buzz Bartlett, director of corporate affairs at Lockheed. He's on two business arts boards, and David E. Phillips, the manager of corporate philanthropy, is associated with four arts groups. "We see the arts as integral to the quality of life of our employees," Bartlett says.
This wooing of the corporate dollars takes hard work and the serendipity of having interested executives and a good economy. But the most basic lesson of Seattle is: Habits can be changed.