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Capitol Theatre: Legislative priorities from an arts perspective

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sundome artwork

A blue reflector falls from the Yakima Valley SunDome’s “Circle of Light” artwork on Aug. 10, 2020, as Jennifer Pont, an architectural conservator with Architectural Resources Group, taps individual reflectors. The evaluation was the first phase in an effort to repair the artwork.

It’s time to let your voice be heard. The state House and Senate are finalizing the budget for the next two years. Whether you know your legislators well or have never met those who represent you, now is the time to share your opinions with them.

If the arts are a priority for you, here are a few key projects affecting the Yakima Valley to consider for that conversation:

Yakima Valley SunDome “Circle of Light”

That glorious band of color that creates the fairgrounds’ most iconic edifice desperately needs repair. Created by Ellensburg artist Richard Elliott in 1992, the artwork was commissioned by the state with the expectation the state would maintain and preserve it. It is by far the largest and most significant piece of the Washington State Art Collection.

After 30 years baking in the Yakima sun, the 880-foot-long artwork has lost more than 25% of the 50,000 reflectors that create its intricate mosaic. Two years ago, the state funded the first phase to assess the scope of the damage and develop the construction documents and repair estimates. The Phase 2 proposal for $508,000 in front of the Legislature would complete the project and retain the SunDome’s iconic profile for the next 40 years.

Current language in the capital budget would require the State Arts Commission, known as ArtsWA, to cover 20% of the cost through private funding. Not only is the small staff at ArtsWA not structured to raise private funds, their efforts would directly compete with the fundraising efforts of our local and regional nonprofit organizations. Full funding of the project would best serve our community.

Historic Theater Preservation Grant Program

The preservation efforts for historic barns, courthouses and cemeteries have proven track records for the stabilization and rehabilitation of our historic sites, while also creating jobs, leveraging private investment and supporting local economies across the state. Our historic theaters are the focus of the new Historic Theater Preservation Grant Program, or HTPGP.

Like The Capitol Theatre, these venues are local landmarks, serve as our community meeting spaces and are important economic drivers for downtowns in smaller communities across the state. The HTPGP proposal is for $515,000 and would support the capital improvement initiatives for spaces that have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

Coronavirus relief operating budget allocations

Federal support has been crucial to recovery efforts statewide. CARES Act funding supported nonprofits through state, county and city initiatives. These funds made the difference for many struggling through the first half of the pandemic.

Whether or not you supported the CARES Act or the newest American Rescue Plan funding, the state will receive considerable funds vital to supporting this next phase of recovery. Legislators are asked to enact allocations including $2 million for arts-sector relief grants through ArtsWA, $1 million for Humanities Washington, $3.6 million for state historical societies to provide assistance to museums, and $25 million in sector relief through the Department of Commerce, where we ask that ArtsWA be given a consultative role in distributing relief grants. These agencies have shown the ability to get funds distributed across the state in a time frame that makes a difference.

Thank your legislators for all their hard work in the nearly 90 days of the session leading up to this final push. Their processes and procedures have been upended just as much as every other part of our society. Support them in these final budget deliberations by making sure they know how much the arts are a priority for you and your family.

Charlie Robin is CEO of the Capitol Theatre Committee and a board member of ArtsWa, the Washington state Arts Commission.

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