Mayor Names New Head of Film and Music Office, ‘Industry’ Says It Wants the Old Director Back

At the end of the day yesterday an email arrived in the inbox of just about every music and film industry leader in the city. It was from the City of Seattle Office of Film and Music Director James Keblas, not an uncommon occurrence given the director’s level of outreach since taking the job 9 years ago, shortly after the office was established by then-mayor Greg Nickels. But the message was not about the future of film and music in the city; it was about the end of his future with the office.

In the email Keblas announced he will be vacating the office, indicating that this was not his decision. “I am writing to inform you that Mayor Murray has decided to not reappoint me to the position of Director for Seattle’s Office of Film + Music,” the note began, before pointing out the fact that Seattle recently was ranked as “the 5th best city to live and work as a moviemaker” and that “[t]here are more live music venues thanks in part to the live music incentives and nightlife initiatives we implemented.” The man, whose positivity while carrying out the duties of the office was so constant it was almost eerie, continued:

I have been working with Seattle’s creative community since the early ‘90s and have never seen it better. While we have enjoyed success in the past, this time it feels more authentic. Forget “world-class.” We are “Seattle-class.” Thanks to the hard work of so many individuals and business leaders, I look forward to seeing this work continue.

At least one segment of the film industry has an idea of who should be doing that work in the future: James Keblas. “Re-appoint James Keblas as Director of the City of Seattle Office of Film and Music,” reads the headline on a petition just posted to change.org by a group boldly calling itself “Seattle’s Film and Video Production Industry.” After much praise of Keblas’ accomplishments, the petition reads, in part:

Mayor Murray, you ran on a platform of job growth and economic development. The city’s own 2001 economic impact study found that the film and video industry in Seattle employed 4,991 locals and contributed $471 million to the local economy—and these numbers have certainly grown since that time. Losing the continuity and experience of James Keblas in this office and as the public face of film production in the City of Seattle would have a substantial and detrimental impact to the growth of the film, television, and commercial production in the City of Seattle.

As of 10:30 a.m. it has gathered more than 800 supporters. That petition, though, is unlikely to yield any results since the mayor has already named a replacement.

“I’m pleased to name Kate Becker to the position of director of the Office of Film + Music,” Murray is quoted in a release sent later last night. “Kate has strong industry relationships and a passion for music, nightlife and film in Seattle. I’m looking forward to the energy and creativity she brings to my leadership team.”

The music community is likely to be less up in arms about the hire than the film industry since Becker, like Keblas, cut her organizational teeth as an all-ages music activist (she founded the Old Fire House in Redmond, helped overturn Seattle’s Teen Dance Ordinance, and later actually cofounded the Vera Project in Seattle with Keblas and Shannon Stewart). In addition, Becker has served in leadership roles at the Seattle Theatre Group and Art Share LA in Los Angeles. Most recently, according to the mayor’s release, she has “served as a strategic advisor and code compliance team facilitator in the city’s Department of Finance and Administration, working on nightlife, marijuana and I-502 implementation policy since April 2013.”

The mayor’s office promised more information before the end of the day.

Becker will start on February 24.

UPDATE (12:30 p.m., 02/07/14): The following email was sent this afternoon from the Office of Film and Music with the subject line “A Message From Kate Becker”:

Hello Film and Music community stakeholders,

It is with tempered excitement that I agreed to step up to the plate to head the phenomenal work of the Office of Film and Music (OFM) that has been led by my respected friend and colleague James Keblas. All of this has happened very quickly, and is causing some fervor and concern in the community.

It is very clear that people have tremendous admiration for James and his legacy, as do I. I have had the good fortune to work with James in multiple capacities over the years. He and I have been in the trenches together, including co-founding the Vera Project with Shannon Stewart in 2000. We have mutual respect for each other, and have supported each other throughout our careers. We continue to do so now as the community hears this news.

One of the most appealing aspects of accepting this appointment is knowing that I’ll be attempting to fill the giant shoes of a highly successful and effective director. His stellar work will be continued by the top notch OFM staff with my full support. With your help, we will take what has been built and advance even further the mission of making Seattle a great place for film and music. While this office has seen tremendous success, there is more that can be done. I look forward to building that with you.

For those who are expressing concern, please know that I am deeply committed to advancing the success of the work that is underway and the work of the future. I have an extensive background in leadership and community organizing, deep music community history, and a lifelong love of film. While I have a degree in filmmaking and history that includes building a media lab and launching a filmmaking program for teenagers, I look forward to meeting and working with many others whom I haven’t met yet.

When I came to work at the City of Seattle ten months ago, James jumped in to support me and help me adapt to new work, new colleagues, and new opportunities. I have complete faith, as well as his commitment, that he will be there for me now as we move through this transition. I am honored to have the good faith and trust invested in me by the Mayor to carry on this work.

I have reviewed the ambitious 2014 work plan of the OFM, and am excited to continue advancing the City of Music and Commercialize Seattle initiatives that are the foundation of Seattle’s unique public/private partnership to support musicians and filmmakers in a highly competitive environment.

I am also honored to oversee the function that coordinates city-wide permitting activities for film, special events, and neighborhood farmers markets. This function is a critical piece of supporting economic development, artistic and cultural expression, first amendment rights, recreation, small businesses, and stronger connections with everyone who lives and works in, and visits, Seattle. I look forward to bringing my consensus building skills to find common ground to improve the quality of all these events, and broaden support for, and understanding of them, across government and the public.

Ultimately, the most important thing is carrying the good work of the OFM forward while addressing new issues and advancing new ideas generated by the film and music community. I look forward to doing this in partnership with the excellent and accomplished OFM staff and you.

There will be multiple celebrations of James and his incredible achievements and everyone will be invited. I look forward to celebrating with you.

Kate Becker

 
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