King County approves new Cultural Development Authority for arts and heritage programs on September 23, 2002.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 10/08/2002
  • Essay 3984
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On September 23, 2002, the Metropolitan King County Council votes unanimously to establish in 2003 a “Cultural Development Authority” (CDA) to succeed the existing King County Office of Cultural Resources (OCR). The new agency is to be organized as a quasi-autonomous public development authority governed by a 15-member citizen board for making grants and operating programs related to arts funding, public art, and heritage programs. Staff and programs for designation and protection of historic landmarks will remain a direct governmental responsibility of King County. The agency will adopt the name 4Culture in 2004.

Cultural Potpourri

The King County Office of Cultural Resources was established as an executive agency in the 1990s to consolidate staff and support programs for the King County Arts Commission, Public Art Commission, and Landmarks & Heritage Commission. OCR is responsible for management of the County’s efforts to designate and protect historic landmarks, purchase and maintenance of public artworks through King County’s “One Percent for Art” program, and disbursement of Hotel/Motel Tax revenues through annual grants for arts, cultural education, and heritage projects. The agency’s staff (21.5 full-time-equivalents) managed $6.6 million in Hotel/Motel Tax funds and $1.5 million in public art funds in 2002.

Exploration of new organizational and funding models for King County’s cultural programming began in 2001 as it became clear that shrinking general tax revenues would undermine funding for Office of Cultural Resources staff and prevent growth of services and programs. OCR’s general expense budget for 2002 was cut by half to $1.3 million, and Hotel/Motel Tax authority, created in connection with construction of the Kingdome (demolished in 2000), is due to expire in 2012.

Sink or Swim

King County Executive Ron Sims and OCR director James Kelly decided to investigate a public development authority (PDA) model to preserve essential programs while creating new administrative efficiencies and funding opportunities. PDAs are quasi-public non-profit corporations created by local governments for special purposes such as management of Seattle’s Pike Place Market. While chartered by and accountable to a local government, a PDA can raise independent funds, manage staff, contract services, and conduct business with more freedom than traditional public agencies.

OCR retained consultants Jan Eakins and Sarah Thomssen to analyze the feasibility of a cultural PDA and to solicit public input and comment. Their initial report was released on April 26, 2002. In subsequent review, it was determined that King County could not legally delegate its regulatory responsibilities for historic landmarks to a PDA, and changes were made in the proposed governance structure to ensure equal representation of arts and heritage interests on the CDA’s 15-member board.

The Cultural Development Authority began operation on January 1, 2003, with transitional funding from King County. It adopted the name "4Culture" (representing its four focus areas of heritage, public art, historic preservation, and the arts) in 2004.


King County Office of Cultural Resources, Feasibility Study Report: A Public Development Authority for Culture, April 26, 2002; Proposed King County Ordinance 2002-0365 and staff report, September 5, 2002; King County OCR press release, September 23, 2002.
Note: This essay was updated in July 2004.

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