Kilmer Conducts Round Table of Area Artists, Arts Advocates

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer of Washington state’s 6th congressional district followed his tour of the construction of Fort Worden’s Makers Square on Feb. 20 with a roundtable discussion at the Commons in Fort Worden that afternoon to hear from Port Townsend-area artists and arts advocates.

Although the White House has repeatedly called to zero-out funding for the National Endowments for the Arts, Kilmer noted the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.4 trillion national budget last December that included $162 million for the NEA.

This is the largest amount awarded to the NEA in six years, and an increase of $7.25 million over its funding last year, although it still falls short of the agency’s goal of returning to its 1992 funding level of $175 million.

“The arts can be an incredible game-changer to the economy,” said Kilmer, who also wanted to hear testimonials about the social benefits of public art and arts programs, that he can take back to his colleagues in “the other Washington.”

Centrum Executive Director Rob Birman sees the arts as not only providing a diversity of cultural perspectives, but also encouraging people to conduct their discourse in a more civil and respectful manner.

Sam Calhoun, executive director of Arts Northwest, believes bringing performing arts to rural communities not only helps inspire young people, but can also aid in alleviating some issues endemic to rural regions, such as the opioid epidemic, even if only through the simple step of offering “something else that gets them thinking.”

Cathy Haight, a board member with the Juan de Fuca Foundation for the Arts, identified the arts as a vital outlet, especially for those young people whose skills don’t otherwise lend themselves to STEM subjects or athletics.

“It lets them know they’re not alone,” Haight said. “It gives them an opportunity to shine and say to themselves, ‘This is my place.’”

Copper Canyon Press co-publishers George Knotek and Joseph Bedarnik see their authors as helping bolster readers’ empathy by broadening their horizons, personalizing the plight of others in ways that mere statistical accounts of societal inequality can often fail to do, which is why they believe the onus is upon them to support a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives in the authors they publish.

“As has been said, if you have to ask what poetry is good for, it’ll never do any good for you,” Bedarnik said.

Kilmer agreed that “it shouldn’t be this hard” to promote the public benefits of the arts rather than “starting from a defensive posture.”

Mari Mullen, executive director of the Port Townsend Main Street Program, praised the local area as “a super-creative place,” but acknowledged that a number of the artists drawn here wind up having to work multiple jobs just to make a living.

To that end, Mullen reiterated her advocacy for a state-certified Creative District, whose boundaries would include Fort Worden, to allow those artists to earn living-wage incomes from their artistry and foster a more year-round economy in the region in the process.

First-term Port Townsend City Council member Owen Rowe praised city manager John Mauro for making one of his first official acts the dedication of a piece of public art, the Russell Jaqua sculpture at the Visitor Center Plaza, and noted that Mauro referred to the public art as “infrastructure,” a view Rowe endorses.

Teresa Verraes, executive director of the Port Townsend School of the Arts, cited medical studies showing that loneliness can be as hazardous to one’s health as smoking, and touted her school’s programs as helping to keep people of all ages engaged, including seniors who enroll in the PtSA’s classes.

“They’re looking to keep their minds sharp as they get older,” Verraes said. “But many of them are on fixed incomes.”

Part of why Kilmer feels obligated to spend so much time among his constituents, he said, is so he can inform both his fellow legislators and other citizens about all the “amazing things that are happening” that benefit not only specific groups, but also the nation as a whole.

“We are so much better than our politics right now,” Kilmer said.

Source: The Leader