Breaking the code at the Times

Seattle's newspapers like to present their town as a great big grown-up city, but sometimes they treat their readers as if everybody in town meets once a week for squash at the Athletic Club. Case in point: the guest editorial by Peter Donnelly in last Wednesday's SeattleTimes. You know something important is at stake when the president of the Corporate Council for the Arts goes public with warnings about the harm "recent articles in this and other papers" are doing the cause of public funding for the arts. But with all names, dates, and other specifics politely left out, you'd never know who did what to whom, and with what, and why.

In plain English, what happened was: In a mid-March interview with the Times' Melinda Bargreen, Seattle Symphony executive director Deborah Card expressed some frustration with the failure of state and county governments to come through on schedule with $3.6 million in promised support for constructing the SSO's new downtown home, Benaroya Hall. "If these two don't come through for another year," Card was quoted as saying, "we will incur $600,000 to $700,000 in financing costs." In her article, Bargreen was careful to tell the other side of the story. Without coming right out and saying Card and the SSO had counted unhatched chickens, she made it clear that though Wenatchee's state Rep. Clyde Ballard redirected state arts-construction money originally earmarked for Benaroya Hall for his hometown, he was breaking no pledge in doing so. As for the county, it's already contributed substantially to the Benaroya project, and only delayed its latest donation because of the fiscal emergency brought on by the failure of the Medic One levy on last November's ballot. Later coverage of the issue in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by Monday arts columnist Doug McClennan was less cautious and more confrontational: So much so that a distinctly "Well, if that's how you feel, to hell with you" mood became perceptible around County Council and Executive offices.

Donnelly's editorial, and an equally enigmatic Sunday piece by the Times' Joni Balter, were meant to smooth ruffled legislative feathers by giving credit where credit's due without keeping the issue alive by explaining who ruffled them in the first place—maybe because Card is currently out on maternity leave and shouldn't be bothered with trivia. What most struck Art Town in the whole affair is the way the numbers Card cited passed without so much as a raised eyebrow: If a year's interest on $3.6 million is $600,000 or $700,000 (i.e., between 16 percent and nearly 20 percent), the Symphony is dealing with the wrong bank.

Bright new Penny

To hear the shouts of self-congratulation rising from the Pierce County arts crowd, you'd think they invented Penelope Loucas, the new manager for the Tacoma Arts Commission—or at the very least put her into office against the implacable resistance of the arts establishment.

All very nice, but not exactly on the mark, says Tacoma arts czar Eli Ashley, who administers both Tacoma's Cultural Resources Division and the downtown Broadway Theater District for the city. "There was a national search for the job, over 30 applicants, many very well qualified. I hired Penny Loucas because of her 30 years of work in both government and nonprofit arts. While we work primarily with artists, we also deal with neighborhoods, private patrons, government bodies, and we need above all someone comfortable with all those constituencies and able to speak the languages they speak."

Not everybody's cheering, particularly not Dorothy McQuiston. A Cultural Resources hand of 11 years standing who many regarded as a shoo-in for the job, McQuiston bailed following Loucas' appointment, as did historic-preservation honcho Val Sivinsky, both saying the selection process was skewed in Loucas' favor. But most couldn't be more pleased with the choice. In the gallery Loucas founded in 1990, "she not only showed the best work around here but all the personal qualities that make artists feel wanted and valued," says Charles Wright Academy's Ricker Winsor. "Penny not only has superb taste and intelligence and vision, she's found a way to reinvent the 'salon,' in old Gertrude Stein sense, right in her apartment."

Loucas, whose vita includes teaching (literature at the University of New Hampshire) and adult ed (career and experience education for the state of Montana) appears to have no illusions about the level of impact her office can have. "We have lots and lots of projects, but most of what we do isn't commissioning work but coordination and referral and advice to other agencies. It would be wonderful if everything arts-related went through us, but not just yet, please: At the moment, I am the staff here."

More scares for Scarecrow

For a while it looked like the founders of Scarecrow Video, George and Rebecca Latsios, would be forced by federal bankruptcy court to sell their business to a convicted felon in violation of his probation, merely because his was the highest bid. But the buyer failed to make his down payment for the store by the deadline set by the court, March 31, and the Latsioses stepped back into its day-to-day management, only to discover a little souvenir left behind by ex-buyer Lyle Holmes during his months as manager: an unpaid bill from New York's Fassbinder Foundation for rental of some 20 films by the late German master, presented under the aegis of Scarecrow back in January. Attempts to contact Holmes have been fruitless. Meanwhile, the search continues for a buyer both able to put up the million-plus needed to satisfy the Latsioses' debts and likely to maintain the collection of one of the half-dozen leading video rental shops of North America.

 
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