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ARTE NOIR EDITORIAL

BRIAN CARTER - CULTIVATING A CULTURE OF CARE

When Brian Carter first interviewed at 4Culture for the position of Heritage Lead, he was frank in his response to the question posed about where he saw himself in the next 5 years. He saw himself in his current position as Executive Director of Martin Luther King, Jr. County’s arts and cultural funding agency. It was not about being overly confident or boastful, rather, his personal values lie deep in the belief that making audible professional desires is key to cultivating an organizational culture that understands and nurtures skills development and advancement of its staff. Two years after the beginning of his tenure at 4Culture, Brian was confirmed by the County Council as the Executive Director upon the retirement of his predecessor.

 

A Stanford University alum, with a Master's degree in Museology/Museum Studies from the University of Washington, Carter’s background is steeped in history and museum leadership. He has served as the President of the Association of African American Museums and has previous directorships at the Burke Museum, the Northwest African American Museum, the Oregon Historical Society, and as an instructor for the University of Washington Museum Studies Program. Carter found himself ready to explore leadership within a public funding agency to better understand and influence where funding goes and who gets to decide where investments in the arts and cultural sector are made. “In public funding, there is a moral responsibility and power that’s different from a corporation or family foundation for instance. Something about the nobility and honor of being in public service and looking at the full range of residents and people who pass through King County” attracted Carter. 



4Culture uses funds provided through the hotel-motel lodging tax and 1% for art to support grant programs for public art projects, and community initiatives, putting public dollars to work that fosters creativity in King County. In December 2023, the King County Council unanimously passed the Doors Open legislation to increase funding to King County arts, heritage, science, and historic preservation through a 0.1 percent sales tax. Tax collection will begin in April 2024 and is estimated to generate approximately $100 million annually over seven years. The agency that Carter leads, 4Culture, is the designated agency that will implement the funding distribution. 

 

Carter’s leadership has been essential to preparing his agency to manage this new funding source, with a keen eye on measuring impact, while maintaining an application process that allows the arts sector to amplify the work they are already doing. Brian explains that 4Culture had already piloted new programs in response to what was needed by the sector. “If lodging tax remained our only source of funding, we would still be moving toward a more effective model based on community listening,” he stated. Carter set out to lead the development of an integrated funding model that would not have significant impacts if no new funding materialized. 


Brian is one of few African Americans in the country responsible for guiding such significant investments into the arts and cultural sector.


The passage of the Doors Open funding comes after decades of work toward the creation of the new funding stream that it provides. However, the legislation failed to pass public muster in initial ballot measures, which provided an opportunity to reflect and focus on creating successful and more equitable outcomes.

 

A primary key to the successful passage through the County Council is the intra-agency trust that had been built. Brian and Inspire Washington Executive Director Manny Cawaling came into their respective positions at the same time. This allowed them to build on an already established relationship and to create a culture of trust across both their agencies. There was cross-staff coordination and planning that engendered a degree of mutual ownership and shared visions. This coordination was also an important part of developing cogent distribution models that were thoroughly vetted and presented to Council. This team approach created a high degree of confidence in the elected officials whose responsibility it is to serve their communities where this funding provided greater benefit to the people of King County’s 39 cities.

 

Brian noted that the 4Culture budget will be approximately half that of the National Endowment for the Arts.  He is one of few African Americans in the country responsible for guiding such significant investments into the arts and cultural sector. But there is nothing singular about his leadership style. Brian is highly conscious of the legacy that precedes him. When asked what keeps him up at night, Carter responded, “I didn’t build 4Culture. The people who came before me built something. As a steward and caretaker, I have just this moment. I want it to work well against the mission and the vision that this organization has set for itself. And I want to make it easier for the next person that comes along. I want the community that we support, that we say we care about, to trust us. I want to be able to hand that off. When you are in the midst of great change, the possibility of that culture of care can shift.” 


“In public funding, there is a moral responsibility and power that’s different from a corporation or family foundation for instance. Something about the nobility and honor of being in public service and looking at the full range of residents and people who pass through King County” attracted Carter [to the role].

 

In addition to sustaining a culture of care that is evident to the people served by 4Culture, Carter is equally concerned about the people with whom he works. He noted that the majority of staff at 4Culture come from the sector and have worked in non-profit arts and cultural organizations as practitioners. It is their continued desire to do this work and the necessity to prioritize staff wellness that also robs him of sleep. 

 

Brian Carter represents an era of arts leadership and arts investments that has not previously been dominant or even common. His success will continue to be guided by his values and his obvious love for the arts, heritage, science, culture, historic preservation, and the legislative community that depend upon his studied guidance and leadership. We are all nurtured by his commitment to a culture of care.


A bald Black man in a white shirt with bright pink powder splashed on him from a Holi celebration speaks into a microphone in front of a large crowd
Brian Carter speaking at a community Holi celebration

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