Tag: Office of Arts and Culture

Arts Commission Chairs Resign Amid Furor Over Durkan’s “Surprise” Arts Director Appointment

By Erica C. Barnett

On Tuesday, the two co-chairs of the Seattle Arts Commission abruptly resigned, citing “grave concern surrounding Mayor Durkan’s lack of process in the recent appointment of the Acting Director for the Office of Arts and Culture, superseding both community and Council.”

“After meeting with the Mayor’s Office this past Friday and in their subsequent decisions, it was very apparent to us that they had an ulterior motive that did not include any input or involvement  from the Arts Commission or arts and cultural community members,” the co-chairs’ resignation letter continued.

Office of Arts and Culture logoEarlier this month, Durkan appointed former Center on Contemporary Arts (CoCA) director Royal Alley-Barnes to serve as interim director for the office, which has lacked a permanent leader since December 2020, when longtime director Randy Engstrom resigned. She’ll replace Calandra Childers, whom Durkan appointed to serve as interim director when Engstrom left.

Alley-Barnes is the former head of the then-city-funded Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, which is now an independent nonprofit known as LANGSTON.

LANGSTON’s current director, Tim Lennon, wrote a letter to council members expressing his opposition “not to the candidate selected but rather to the total apparent lack of consultation with our sector [and] the utter lack of an articulated strategy for ARTS which necessitates this leadership change 4 months before the end of this administration.”

Members of the ARTS Director Search Committee, including artists, curators, and academics, also wrote a letter to the Arts Commission expressing their disappointment in the process and the “surprise appointment” of Alley-Barnes. The committee convened in early 2021 to begin the process of appointing a permanent, not interim, director, according to the letter.

“The work of this Committee was initiated and overseen by Deputy Director Calandra Childers who was serving as acting Director of ARTS since February,” the letter says. “Her deep commitment and wide-ranging expertise in directing the ARTS office throughout this challenging time, while also guiding the work of this committee, is to be respected, protected, supported, and even modeled—not discarded without a conversation or any thoughtful process.”

Currently, at least eight city departments are headed by interim or acting directors.

The mayor’s office also provided a number of letters supporting the appointment. Unlike the letters of opposition, most of these focused on Alley-Barnes and her record leading arts organizations, including CoCA, over many years. Supporters of her appointment included former King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, Community Police Commission member Harriett Walden, HistoryLink director Marie McCaffrey, and CoCA board member Dr. Judith Rayl, who wrote that she “has embraced a lifetime devoted to community flourishing. Her influence is evident at all levels: regionally, locally, organizationally, and interpersonally through her excellence in leadership and mentorship.”

When a mayor appoints a new permanent department head, the city council has to vote on whether to approve the nomination. An interim appointment, in contrast, requires only the “concurrence” of the budget committee chair (currently Teresa Mosqueda) and the council president (currently Lorena González.) Both signed off on the appointment, although González said she did so only after Durkan called the question by formally announcing Alley-Barnes as the new interim director.

“It would have been my hope that the Mayor would have fulfilled the commitments made to the commission and broader arts community,”  González said in a statement. “With an interim director in place, the City will be able to search for a permanent director via a process that includes and honors input from commissioners and community members, whose role it is to advise elected officials in decisions such as these.” (Emphasis González’).

Durkan’s office disputes González’s timeline and denies that the process for appointing Alley-Barnes as interim director was in any way unusual. Durkan spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said the mayor’s office “reached out on September 8 regarding this appointment to which both offices confirmed receipt and expressed no concerns about the imminent announcement,” adding, “the Mayor’s Office has not run a stakeholder process when appointing the Interim or Acting Directors, understanding a longer stakeholder process is needed for permanent appointments.” Continue reading “Arts Commission Chairs Resign Amid Furor Over Durkan’s “Surprise” Arts Director Appointment”

Shakeups at the City: Durkan Announces New Interim Directors for Human Services and Arts Departments

By Erica C. Barnett

Seattle Human Services Department interim director Jason Johnson—interim, since 2018, because the city council declined to approve his nomination after a series of contentious hearings—is leaving his position at the end of the year. In his place, Mayor Jenny Durkan is appointing King County Housing Authority senior policy director Helen Howell on an interim basis “while the City embarks on an inclusive, nationwide search for the permanent director,” according to a press release announcement the appointment.

Interim deputy mayor Tiffany Washington—who just replaced Shefali Ranganathan in the mayor’s office—will head up the search for a permanent director.

Johnson will officially leave the city on January 15, but will be taking a “long planned vacation” starting next Monday, he told staff in an email. “My work throughout 2020 has been on borrowed time,” Johnson’s email continued. “As you may recall, I delayed an earlier announced departure from HSD in order to help the City and our partners respond to COVID-19, develop the department’s 2021 budget, and to ensure the governance structure of the regional homelessness authority was launched and positioned to hire a CEO. … This was not an easy decision for me to make—especially given how much the department is holding at this time—but with these priorities accomplished and in good hands, it is time for me to step away. ”

Howell, the new interim director, is also the former executive director of Building Changes, a Seattle-based group that focuses on homelessness.

Howell is In 2016 and again in 2018, Howell wrote op/eds for the Seattle Times promoting diversion—programs to move people from homelessness to better housing situations, such as “getting back in the good graces of a previous landlord or negotiating with a relative who can offer a place to stay”—as “a common-sense and cost-effective strategy that helps families identify immediate options for housing without relying on housing provided by or subsidized through the homeless system.”

In 2005, she stepped down from her position as director of the state Department of Financial Institutions. According to a Seattle Times report, she was popular with consumer advocates—and unpopular with the institutions she regulated, including payday lenders—because of her focus on consumer protection. She was also the head of Washington state’s Obama delegation in 2008 and one of 11 applicants to fill Dow Constantine’s county council seat when he was elected county executive in 2009.

The Human Services Department is transferring much of its role overseeing Seattle’s homelessness system to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority next year, although HSD will continue to oversee outreach to unsheltered people through the new HOPE team established in the 2021 city budget. Encampment removals, once the purview of the Navigation Team and largely halted during the pandemic, will likely resume to some extent next year, although it’s unclear how the responsibility for future removals will be distributed among the various departments that are responsible for them now.

Johnson officially resigned his position at the end of February, but stayed on because of the pandemic, which required major shifts in how the city responded to homelessness. The city council decided not to approve his appointment, in part, because several members felt he did not respond adequately to questions about his willingness to make decisions independent from Mayor Jenny Durkan, his commitment to race and social justice, and his lack of responsiveness to questions about layoffs at the homelessness division, among other issues.

In a statement, Mayor Jenny Durkan praised Johnson’s decision to stay on board during the pandemic. “His quick and decisive actions kept our most marginalized communities safe throughout the pandemic,” Durkan said. “Because of his vision and leadership, the Human Services Department is primed to build on these efforts for years to come.”

Although the job of HSD director will be less directly focused on homelessness in the future than it has been under Johnson, the new director will also be in charge of a perpetually dissatisfied Homelessness Strategy and Investment division that has been bleeding staff due to uncertainty over whether and when they’ll get jobs in the new RHA; the delayed hiring of a CEO for that authority has exacerbated the uncertainty.

Durkan also announced two other departmental shakeups this morning: Randy Engstrom, the longtime director of the city’s Office of Arts and Culture, will be replaced by current deputy director Calandra Childers on an interim basis. According to Durkan’s announcement, Engstrom “will turn his attention to teaching, advocating for national cultural policies, and spending time with his family.”

Durkan is also replacing the acting director of the Office of Emergency Management, Laurel Nelson since longtime director Barb Graff left (only to come back temporarily to head up the city’s COVID emergency response) in 2019, will be headed by Curry Mayer, who was most recently director of Bellevue’s Office of Emergency Management.