The arts community reeled on Feb. 6 when James Keblas, longtime director of the Mayor’s Office of Film and Music, announced via email that he had been removed from his post by incoming Mayor Ed Murray. Reaction was immediate on social media, vehemence vented and petitions launched within minutes. Keblas had filled his post admirably, improving the standing of the film and music communities during his nine-year tenure.
The next day came a second email from the Office, stating that Kate Becker had been chosen to replace Keblas.
Becker is revered within the Seattle music world as a co-founder (along with Keblas) of the Vera Project and as former development director at one of the region’s largest arts nonprofits, Seattle Theatre Group. For the last 10 months, she worked in the Department of Financial and Administrative Services on I-502 and marijuana policy implementation, so she’s essentially shifting from one City office to another.
“I’m naturally activist in my demeanor,” Becker said in a phone interview on Feb. 19. “I’ve worked in city politics a great deal, from sitting on tasks forces, most recently Langston Hughes, and before that the Music Commission and the Music and Youth Task Force. So I have a good sense of how city politics work and how to advance policies within the paradigm here.”
Becker has less of an idea of why Keblas was ousted or how she was selected to take his place. “I don’t know what happened in the Murray administration other than one of his deputies called me two weeks ago and asked to meet. It’s mysterious and I can’t go into detail with you because I don’t know anything.”
In the two weeks following the announcement, Becker went to great lengths to ameliorate the film community, meeting with the Film Commission and attending two informal industry gatherings to field questions and concerns.
She’s already clear on her first-year goals, reciting them with the elocution of an on-message civil servant: to further ease the permitting process and increase incentives for filmmaking in Seattle and to advance the Commercialize Seattle initiative, which generates high-paid commercial work for local filmmakers.
“Part of the trick of doing this job successfully is making sure independent artists get what they need as well as making sure the creative economy is flourishing for those working on larger scale production and businesses,” she says.
Public consensus agrees on two things: The Murray administration blundered in bypassing the film and music communities in making what appears to be a backroom decision. Also, back-room dealings notwithstanding, Becker is an excellent choice.
The situation suggests that among capable, experienced arts administrators, Seattle has an embarrassment of riches.