by Pat Filer – AKCHO Awards Selection Committee Chair
The AKCHO Board wanted Jim Kelly, one of King County’s most beloved and respected cultural leaders in King County’s thriving cultural community, to know how much the heritage community has appreciated his tireless efforts, by bestowing upon him their highest honor, an AKCHO Board Award. Kelly retired as 4Culture’s Executive Director as of March 31, 2018 after 25 years of advocacy for public investment in arts and culture. Under Kelly’s leadership, 4Culture has become the largest cultural funder in Washington State. During his tenure, over $130 million has been distributed into the sector to 2,800 individuals and groups.
Kelly was hired in 1993 to provide funding and technical assistance to the King County Arts Commission and the Landmarks and Heritage Commission, then a small division of the Parks Department. Forging partnerships with elected officials, Kelly advocated successfully for increased cultural investment throughout the region and managed the County’s first wave of investment in cultural facilities. The Office of Cultural Resources was elevated to a department of the Executive’s Office in 1997 and Kelly was appointed Executive Director in 1999.
During the 2001 Dotcom crash, Kelly was asked to restructure and downsize. Instead, he seized the opportunity to propose a plan to transition the department to an independent public agency—known as a public development authority, or PDA—with an independent board, budget, and self-governance. Once approved, Kelly led the transition with grace and earned the confidence of the cultural community. The agency was moved to the newly renovated Tashiro Kaplan Building in Pioneer Square and was rebranded as 4Culture to represent the four program areas it supports: arts, heritage, preservation, and public art.
In 2007, realizing that 4Culture’s revenues would be insufficient to keep pace with the needs of a growing region, Kelly organized what would become a 7-year effort at the state legislature to extend the lodging tax to support arts and culture in King County. With Kelly at the helm, King County was able to renew its commitment to support a thriving cultural community.
Recently, Kelly worked with Executive Dow Constantine and the King County Council to leverage funds to create Building for Culture, a $28 million initiative that funded the development of cultural facilities county-wide, including KEXP and the Federal Way Performing Arts Center.
As King County’s population continues to grow and diversify, Kelly has pushed for equity and access to funding for communities that have been underrepresented during 4Culture’s history. Kelly is passionate about making it possible for everyone in King County to experience and participate in our rich cultural heritage.
According to Joe McDermott, King County Council Chair, “Under Jim Kelly’s leadership, 4Culture has become a trusted and respected resource, supporting the vibrant arts and cultural community that is a hallmark of King County.”