By Mina Williams Herald writer
LYNNWOOD — Three of Lynnwood’s Cultural Arts Commission members read their resignation letters to the City Council during the Nov. 28 meeting. A fourth resigned by letter and two more commissioners are expected to follow suit within days. That would mean that six of the seven seats are vacant.
The tsunami of resignations comes on the heels of rampant budget cuts that have left the arts program decimated, said Lynette Stefansson, commission chair. She has been involved with the commission for five years and plans to resign her seat.
“It’s not an easy decision,” Stefansson said. “Every year is a fight to keep even a small budget with a single city staffer. It’s the city who supports the arts and its citizens on the commission who support the city’s efforts. A city without arts is a city without a soul.”
Fred Wong, the city’s cultural arts supervisor, has left Lynnwood to take a similar position in Shoreline/Lake Forest Park. He was involved with the city’s arts program for a decade.
“He was a catalyst who brought so much to the community,” said Ruth Ross, one of the commissioners who resigned.
Lynnwood’s budget woes are starting to have a visible impact, said Ross, a former councilwoman. Only fee-based activities have remained in the program. Non revenue-generating events, art shows, children’s summer programs and Shakespeare in the Park are all on the block.
“Arts in our community is no longer a priority,” Ross said.
The 2009-10 Cultural Arts budget was $530,490. The 2011-12 budget dropped that number to $412,872; but with the bleak financial forecast, additional cuts have been called for, leaving the 2012 budget at $254,272.
The total Parks and Recreation budget, under which Cultural Arts falls, was $5.9 million for 2011. That is being revised to $5.7 million for 2012.
Lynn Sordel, head of the Parks and Recreation department, said that the resignations are very disconcerting.
“We need people to support the arts now more than ever,” he said. “We’ve had reductions, but we still have an arts program. There are classes and we are actively looking for corporate sponsors to underwrite Shakespeare in the Park and Wonder Stage.”
Sordel says this might offer an opportunity to assess the program and perhaps restructure it following a full evaluation.
“We have a city ordinance speaking to Lynnwood’s commitment to the arts. We have a $1 million inventory of works to take care of,” Sordel said. “The reality is, there are more changes to come and we need community members to help us in this difficult and most challenging situation.”