Arts & Entertainment Community Government

City Council reinstates Creative Endeavor grants

Posted on January 30th, 2024 By:

The city of Gig Harbor’s $35,000 Creative Endeavor grants program is back on. 

During a study session in November 2023, the council unanimously agreed to suspend the five-year-old grant program, which supports the arts. But a crowd turned out to criticize the move at the Dec. 11, 2023 council meeting. Many others emailed or called the city on the same subject.

So the council, again unanimously, opted to reinstate the grants at its Jan. 11 study session.

The city created the Creative Endeavor grant program in 2019 to support projects that provide artistic, cultural and creative experiences for the Gig Harbor community. The events must be open and accessible to everyone.

Grant applications are due March 15. The city Arts Commission will make recommendations for funding at its March 20 meeting. Click here to see the application.

Program suspended

The council suspended the relatively low-cost grant program in November, citing the need to cut costs while facing a potential $2 million budget shortfall in 2025.

The shortfall came about in part because the city’s population — and hence, expenses — have grown 65 percent since 2013. The city’s property tax revenue, meanwhile, increased just 8% over the same period, in part due to a ballot initiative approved by voters in 2001.

That initiative, I-747, allows city, county and other local governments to increase property taxes by only 1% per year, unless voters agree to lift that lid.

The city council is considering asking voters to approve a so-called “lid lift,” which would allow property taxes to grow at a higher rate. The council will decide Feb. 13 whether to put that measure before voters. If the council goes forward, the lid lift question would go to voters on April 23.

The $35,000 Creative Endeavor grant program wouldn’t make much of a dent in that projected $2 million shortfall. But at their Nov. 16 study session, council members indicated the move might show voters that elected leaders are dedicated to trimming expenses before asking for a tax increase.

“When we go out for the levy lid lift, I think it will send a message that we’re serious about cutting costs,” council member Le Rodenberg said at the Nov. 16 meeting. He added that cutting the grant program might “promote more positive voting on the levy lid lift.”

Council member Mary Barber used similar language in endorsing suspension of the Creative Endeavor grants.

“It hurts me most to pause on the Creative Endeavor grants. But I think it’s a move that we need to make if we’re going to show that we’re serious about this,” Barber said.

Pro-arts crowd at council meeting

A large crowd attended the Dec. 11 council meeting to urge members to reverse course. Many told the council that they took an entirely different message from the suspension of Creative Endeavor grants.

“The message that clearly comes through from this lack of funding is that Gig Harbor does not support the arts and is not acting in accordance with its stated goals in its own strategic plan,” said Sonja Johnson, chair of the city Arts Commission, which determines which local organizations get the grants.

The city’s 2023-24 Strategic Plan, among many other goals and actions, specifically states the city should “Support the arts commission” and “Fund creative endeavor grants.”

Corey Berman, president of previous Creative Endeavor grant recipient Narrows Music Society, called the council’s suspension of the grant program “punitive.”

“Cutting the Creative Endeavor grant sends one message above all: That Gig Harbor has turned its back on local artists and musicians. I’m sure that’s not the message you want to send,” Berman said. 

Several speakers cited economic benefits the city derives from programs supported by Creative Endeavor grants, many of which drive tourism to Gig Harbor.

Council reverses course 

Given the feedback, the council quickly reinstated the grant program during a Jan. 11 study session.

“I don’t think $35,000 is going to tip the boat” of the city’s finances, Rodenberg said.

“I think we get more benefit for our community from all these arts programs,” said council member Brenda Lykins.

Last year, the council actually spent more on Creative Endeavor grants than it planned. After the Arts Commission selected groups to receive its budgeted $35,000 in grant funds, the council added another $15,000 to the pool. Half of that additional $15,000 to help stage a Spring Market on the Civic Center Green shortly before Mother’s Day.