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Wednesday, December 03, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Lou Guzzo
To borrow a rallying cry from that great statesman, Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream, too a dream about a city that is already great but could become much greater and be the model for other cities around the world.
It seems the Emerald City has moved ahead in spurts from the days of the Bogue Plan, the early 20th-century civic-development vision that, unfortunately, was never implemented; to the extraordinary fervor and imagination spurred by Jim Ellis and his Forward Thrust regional-improvement program; to Joe Gandy and the Seattle World's Fair of 1962.
Where is that enlightened and inexhaustible leadership now at a time the city and its environs need boldness, courage and a sustained "Forward Thrust" into the future? The Ellises and Gandys of the past have shown the way, but the great potential of Seattle and the Puget Sound region has yet to be realized.
As one who was directly involved in the reporting and cheerleading during the Ellis-Gandy years and the development of the Seattle Center, I have had my own dream of what Seattle can be. Let me be specific.
In October, the annual Northwest Bookfest, one of the most important cultural events of the region, was held for the second year at the old naval station at Sand Point's Magnuson Park. The building's acoustics and its facilities are third-rate, to say the least. This year, for the first time, the Bookfest board decided it had to charge a $10 admission in an effort to erase a $30,000 deficit from earlier years. The admission charge cut down on attendance severely, and the future of the Bookfest is in doubt.
Is this near-catastrophe worthy of a city and region known nationwide as the most literate urban area in America? Seattle and the Northwest are home to more quality authors than any region of the U.S. Our Bookfest should grow and become even more appealing to residents, provided the needed leadership comes forth to help realize the dream I share with so many. Yes, I have a vested interest; I'm an author, too.
I have a suggestion. Seattle's Mayor Greg Nickels, with an assist from Gov. Gary Locke, should grab the bull by the horns and bring together the "new leadership" of the 21st century with the purpose of inaugurating "Forward Thrust II."
That new leadership should begin with a few individuals, the likes of whom no other region of the world can boast. They include Bill Gates Jr. and Sr., Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, Paul Allen and the McCaw family. Notice that all of them are billionaires who have been extremely generous in supporting health, education and cultural needs in America and on other continents, as well.
The roll call should not stop there. The region has many other philanthropic and imaginative souls who should be tapped to direct and give impetus to Forward Thrust II.
With the mayor and governor giving the "go" signal, the new leaders could make their first venture the resuscitation and further development of the Northwest Bookfest. It should forget about charging admission. Note that the Gateses and Ballmer should have a major stake in the future of Bookfest because of the emerging importance of their own remarkable devices that hail the future of electronic books, magazines and, yes, newspapers.
The Bookfest belongs in the Seattle Center. Nowhere else. After taking care of Bookfest's needs, the board of Forward Thrust II should turn its attention to all other cash-starved cultural facets in a great city like Seattle. The Seattle Opera, the Seattle Symphony, the Seattle Youth Symphony, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers, the Seattle Children's Theatre, the major museums and art galleries, and all the rest, struggle each year to make ends meet and they frequently fail to do so.
People like the Gateses, Ballmers, Allens and McCaws could underwrite the budgets of all those cultural organizations with their petty cash. Bill Gates Jr. alone and his foundation are accomplishing wonders in health and education in Third World nations, and he deserves great applause for it. Now, I hope the new leaders can talk Gates and the other philanthropic citizens to underwrite by half and I underscore half the greater Seattle cultural organizations.
The reason I emphasized "half" is that I earnestly believe as I wrote so often in my daily columns at The Times that the donations made by the wealthy citizens in the community should be matched by appropriations provided by the city, county and state. Why? Because taxpaying citizens have an equal share in all the cultural organizations that provide not only a wealth of great programming for the public but also the teachers of their children in every phase of music, drama, ballet and all the rest of the arts.
How about it, Mr. Mayor? The ball's in your court.
Lou Guzzo is the retired executive editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and a former arts-and-entertainment editor for The Seattle Times. He served as chief policy counselor to Gov. Dixy Lee Ray and was a commentator for KIRO television and radio. Contact him through his Web site at www.louguzzo.com
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