Will Federal Way ever invest properly in the arts? | Livingston

If Federal Way ever wants to grow its “soul,” it needs to reconsider how it perennially values art, creativity and cultural offerings within its budgeting and community development processes.

Federal Way’s Arts Commission is endeavoring to present the second annual Arts Explosion visual art event at the city’s Performing Arts and Events Center (PAEC). Put May 29 to June 3, 2024, on your calendar. Information on how to participate in Arts Explosion 2024 is on the PAEC’s website. Please attend to make it great.

Breaking new ground in Federal Way is never met with sandy soil, but year one was a success, and year two should be as well. Getting traction within the city’s internal political constraints and nearly non-existent funding for the arts in its cultural offerings means that more rocks need to be broken. The arts build bridges to the community and beyond.

Will Federal Way ever invest properly to have a sustainable and thriving arts community and cultural identity? Our city’s arts commissioners have made progress, but know that those in power are fickle when it comes to investing in what they believe is a luxury beyond the essentials of public safety and public works. One of the challenges that the Arts Explosion event organizers learned during year one was that when it comes to the push and pull of priorities, city officials usually place the arts last in line.

We should be embracing the words of the author Kurt Vonnegut: “Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”

He wrote those words to a high school class late in his life as his way of letting them know he was politely declining their invitation to visit, and he included that statement in his letter as a way of guiding and encouraging each student to find purpose in the joy of life through the joy of art.

If Federal Way ever wants to grow its “soul,” it needs to reconsider how it perennially values art, creativity and cultural offerings within its budgeting and community development processes. We need to ask ourselves what it means to be a city — are we simply a place where people warehouse themselves for protection, or are we a place that expands lifestyle and elevates well-being?

The psychologist Abraham Maslow is known for his hierarchy of needs pyramid. His pyramid defines five levels with the foundational level being the physiological — food, shelter, clothing, or life’s essentials of daily need. The next level deals with safety — personal security, property, health, employment and resources.

These two foundational levels are the space that cities tend to carve out as their primary purpose. Achieve the basics, and people can position themselves as they choose to achieve the remaining hierarchical levels of love and belonging (friendship, family, and sense of connection); esteem (respect, status, recognition and freedom); and self-actualization (achieving one’s full potential including creativity).

Human behavior is complicated, not always kind, and expensive, and it is impossible to meet all of the needs people have in our complex society. The role of government is equally complex and vital and often does not get our understanding, support, or funding to help us realize our potential.

When people do not have sufficient resources at the first two levels, government gets trapped in managing fear cycles, dealing with insufficient resources in the negative, and the toxic politics of competing solutions when reigning in belligerent behaviors and wayward outcomes while trying to meet basic needs. Communities that get beyond the foundational aspects defined by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can distinguish themselves as a special place to be, live, work, and play.

It is incumbent upon all of us to get beyond the fears, resource complications, and human challenges encapsulated within the first two levels of need. As a community, we should improve resources and build opportunities for inclusion to the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Physics has proven that it is easier to pull than to push. By increasing our investment in community-building resources for the arts, we elevate our city’s potential to be seen as a desired destination and create an energy that positions people for higher levels of actualization and networking. Investing in resources that pull people up in their personal growth, use of leisure time, friendship building, recognition, and sense of achievement could become Federal Way’s greatest strength.

Parks and recreation departments generally have the support and resources necessary for team sports and physical activities. They have gained acceptance as being a necessity and as a way of building community and shaping character when applied to youth sports and activities.

Achieving a higher level of community synergy requires us to examine our cultural offerings and current levels of investment with an eye on how best to use culture as a tool. As Federal Way’s diversity continues to increase, we need to use our resources for cross-pollination networking to elevate equity and understanding as we address access barriers and identify the investments required for using culture as a cornerstone of building our city’s future.

Federal Way built the Performing Arts and Events Center as a starting point, but there is room for more resources and commitment. The creativity of Humans is a forever curiosity, and the diversity of opportunity within the art world is daunting — music, singing, two-dimensional, three-dimensional, film, writing, theater, and more. Where should we invest and with what expectations? Creativity has few boundaries.

The city should become the catalyst for helping facilitate a myriad of cultural activities. It should be increasing its funding subsidies for all of the existing performing arts organizations to ensure viability and begin the process of establishing a visual arts center capable of being a gallery as well as a creator’s makers space and educational resource.

To become a fully actualized city we need to get beyond our fears and position ourselves as a city that embraces becoming and supporting the full hierarchy of life. The practice of art, no matter if it is done well or not, helps us grow.

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com