On December 15, 2020, Seattle, Washington Mayor Jenny A. Durkan signed the Cultural Space Agency Public Development Authority (PDA) charter to create the first new PDA in nearly 40 years. Its goal is to help create a more equitable economic recovery that helps revitalize neighborhoods with large minority populations by repurposing, reusing and renovating vacant structure and spaces.
“The Cultural Space Agency is central to our work to ensure an equitable recovery from COVID-19 for our artists, nonprofits, and cultural organizations. Our artists and cultural communities have been on the frontlines of the slew of crises we’ve faced this year, and the pandemic, an economic downturn with job losses, and civil rights reckoning have laid bare and further magnified our region’s inequities,” said Mayor Durkan.
“We can choose the city that we want to be as we recover from COVID-19. The Cultural Space Agency will lead with equitable development strategies, and center our artistic and cultural communities as a central tactic to rebuild civic health and wealth,” she added.
The Cultural Space Agency is a first-of-its-kind cultural real estate redevelopment company, chartered by the City of Seattle and guided by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders from across the cultural, community development, and commercial real estate sectors.
“BIPOC communities seeking to create generational wealth through cultural spaces and art institutions often highlight the lack of affordable commercial space as a major barrier. The City wants to be a partner in solving this problem, and to create new art and cultural spaces for the BIPOC community and underserved neighborhoods. I’m hopeful this PDA, coupled with allocated funding, will create new spaces that will last in community for generations to come,” said Councilmember Tammy J. Morales (District 2, South Seattle and the C/ID)
The purpose of the Cultural Space Agency is to redevelop cultural space real estate projects in a way that reflects the needs and desires of communities that have borne the burden of institutional racism; build community wealth through investment opportunities in cultural real estate projects; and partner with commercial real estate developers and cultural community stakeholders to create real property projects that reflect the interests and priorities of both.
“Eight years ago when I came to the City, my goal was to create opportunities for our arts and cultural sector, especially for our incredibly talented and underinvested communities of color to thrive,” said ARTS Director Randy Engstrom.
“Creating the first public development authority designed to facilitate affordable, locally-controlled, culturally-focused community space is an incredible accomplishment. The Cultural Space Agency is the best mechanism for applying the City’s values to the commercial real estate market, in partnership with and on behalf of vulnerable residents in our rich cultural communities. It is a game changer for our city,” he continued.
The Cultural Space Agency will seek long-term site control on behalf of and in partnership with community cultural organizations representing communities of color. The organization will acquire properties and create property ownership opportunities in communities historically denied ownership options.
The City of Seattle has dedicated $500,000 each year for two years for initial operating costs and anticipates leveraging philanthropic investments to secure millions of additional dollars in capital investment in community-based projects.
“Racial equity is at the center of the Cultural Space Agency. From its initial inception to the robust community engagement processes through the Build Art Space Equitably cohort, supporting communities of color is embedded in the foundation of the PDA,” said Cassie Chinn, Deputy Executive Director, Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience.
“Through its governance structure and decision-making processes and its accountability to historically marginalized communities through its Constituency, the PDA creates a tangible local tool and national model to transform structural racism within the public realm,” she concluded.
The newly formed Public Development Authority will be paired with the nonprofit Cultural Space Agency, working together, they will support the mission and vision of affordable, locally-controlled, culturally-focused community space. The PDA will be primary in stewarding inter-governmental relationships and in executing commercial real estate transactions, while the nonprofit will take the lead on philanthropic and community relationships.
In 2013, Seattle became the first city in the United States to invest in a body of work dedicated to the protection of cultural space. That work, led by Cultural Space Liaison Matthew Richter, quickly expanded to include a broad range of new projects. The Cultural Space Agency was first proposed in The CAP Report, a groundbreaking and nationally-recognized report on the City’s developing cultural space work.
Photo of downtown Seattle neighborhood via Adobe Stock.