John Boylan’s Next Conversation: “Cities: a conversation with Mike McGinn”

Event Date: Tuesday, March 18, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm

Admission is free. Tell your friends.

This roundtable conversation series happens at Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle ( For more information on the series, call John Boylan at 206-601-9848. If you want to link to this announcement, you can do so at

A history of the conversations is available at

The Summary

This time we’re having a conversation with Mayor Mike McGinn about cities, and about the future of Seattle.

Read on for the details.

The Guest (see bio below)

Michael McGinn, former Mayor of Seattle

The Story

Longtime readers of these announcements know that we love to do conversations about cities, and especially about what we can do to make Seattle a more vibrant city. And sometimes we like to have only one guest rather than the traditional four, especially a guest who has played a key role in the local world.

This month, we’re doing both things, in what promises to be a fascinating conversation with Mike McGinn. McGinn has long played an active role in shaping Seattle, as Mayor over the past four years, and before that as a neighborhood activist and as director of the nonprofit Great City. I want us to draw from that experience.

Like an artist who continually shows a huge promise, Seattle has been poised on the cusp of greatness for as long as I can remember. But this time, things feel different. I think that we may be headed in wonderful directions. The problem is to understand what those directions are, and what to do with them. To the extent we look backward, it is for insight and inspiration—our primary focus must be on looking forward.

I asked Mike for a few comments about that; those are below.

Do come. And a word for the wise: I’m guessing that this one will be well attended. So come early, have a drink, and get settled in.


As many of you know, I’m on the board of directors of Arts Corps, and our spring fundraiser, La Festa del Arte, is coming up on March 21 at Showbox Sodo. It is a party like none other in Seattle, with amazing youth performances, and huge amounts of energy and beauty. The interplay between art, community, and a deep commitment to social justice is stunning. And there’s an after party, with the Love City Love Arts Collective, hosted by Grammy nominee Hollis Wong-Wear. Check it out, and come if you can.

The Guest in Detail

Mike McGinn was the Mayor of Seattle from 2009 to 2013. Prior to that, he was the founding director of the nonprofit Great City, was a leader in the Sierra Club’s Cascade Chapter, and practiced law with the Seattle firm Stokes Lawrence. He has a B.A. from Williams College, and J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law.

In terms of the city’s culture, as Mayor he prioritized film, music, nightlife, and arts and culture as key ingredients in building a successful city. He launched the Music Commission and the Seattle Nightlife Initiative, and he partnered with the Seattle School District to launch the Creative Advantage, a program to bring arts education to all Seattle students.

The Great Recession presented many challenges to artists and the arts. The McGinn administration worked to revitalize Seattle Center, reinvent Langston Hughes, and renovate Washington Hall. The city helped convert an SPD parking lot into 12th Avenue Arts, and invested in the INS building as new artist space. At the end of his term, the city was investing a record amount in arts and culture. He believes Seattle’s current success is closely tied to the city’s reputation as an innovative and creative city.

Mike comes from a family of artists, but unfortunately none of their talent rubbed off on him. Despite this, he has performed in a musical, an opera, and as an extra in three feature films. He will invite attendees to identify which ones.

Mike’s response to a question I posed:

Healthy support for the arts is only part of a vibrant city. What are the other parts? That is a really important question and goes much deeper than dollars for the arts. Dollars are one way of measuring prioritization in a pretty important way, but all too often that is the end point, not a launching point for inquiry into other questions:

  • How the money is used – who gets and does what?
  • How are dollars and programs integrated into other functions of government?

Answering those questions well requires an overall vision for the city to which the arts are contributing.  For me that vision would be an innovative, multicultural city that lifts everyone up, and that leads on the environment.

We compete in the world economy not on the basis of low cost, low environmental standards, or cheap natural resources, but rather on the basis of excellence in certain products and services based upon high standards. For that, we need to cultivate the best people, regardless of where they started in life, and to cultivate a shared sense of mission and purpose.

How does art get us there? By enhancing our quality of life and our understanding of the challenges we face, and by breaking down barriers to understanding cultural differences. It’s essential that we prepare youth for the future, so that they can contribute to a culture of creativity and innovation—even if that creativity and innovation is not “artistic,” but rather entrepreneurial or scientific.

What’s Next:

On Tuesday, April 8, we’ll have a conversation about Performance. Lane Czaplinski from On the Boards is coming, and we’ve also been in conversation with Vanessa deWolf, Jennifer Zeyl, Haruko Nishimura and Joshua Kohl of the Degenerate Art Ensemble, and Paige Barnes. Stay tuned for the final list.


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