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Mayor Durkan Announces Leadership Updates at Emergency Management, Human Services, and Arts and Culture

Seattle (December 4, 2020) – Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan today announced several leadership changes, including the appointment of Curry Mayer as Director of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Helen Howell as Interim Director of the Human Services Department (HSD), and Calandra Childers as Interim Director of the Office of Arts & Culture (ARTS). HSD Director Jason Johnson and ARTS Director Randy Engstrom will depart in January 2021.    

Curry Mayer will join the City with over 20 years of emergency management experience at the local, state, national levels. Most recently, Mayer served as Emergency Manager for the City of Bellevue, overseeing the design and implementation of comprehensive emergency management programs. She has considerable local government experience and knowledge of regional relationships. At the City of Bellevue, Mayer led a diverse team and has extensive experience encouraging communities to take a proactive stance towards emergency preparedness. As OEM Director, Mayer will ensure the City’s emergency response advances through a lens of inclusivity, centering underserved populations, and will join the City in December 2020.    

“2020 has been a year of immense challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic, but the City has undergone other emergencies including the closure of the viaduct and the largest snowstorm in 50 years. Our Office of Emergency Management plays a key role in coordinating and preparing for disasters and emergencies facing our city. OEM – working with all our departments – will help our City recovery more equitably,” said Mayor Durkan. “As Curry begins this new role, I am grateful to Acting Director Laurel Nelson and the entire OEM staff who have helped navigate an unprecedented year.”   

“Seattle has a proud history of excellence in emergency management, exhibited most profoundly by leading the nation with its COVID-19 emergency response. Thank you, Mayor Durkan. I am honored to step into the leadership role of this great agency with such talented staff and I look forward to working across departments to help spearhead a resilient and equitable post-COVID recovery,” said Mayer.   

HSD Director Jason Johnson had previously announced his departure from the City. However, with the onset of COVID-19, Johnson graciously extended his time, implementing groundbreaking policies to stabilize the city’s most vulnerable residents including expanding shelter resources and services for people experiencing homelessness, streamlining emergency food access, and helping maintain critical services for aging and disabled residents throughout the pandemic. Over a seven-year period, Johnson led the City through the largest shelter expansion in history, a 77 percent increase in enhanced 24/7 shelter, and the development and implementation of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. Through his leadership, the City increased funding for community-based organizations working to improve community safety, supportive services for youth and families, and launched the Age-Friendly Seattle Initiative and the award-winning Health One program in partnership with the Seattle Fire Department.      

“Jason and his team have done incredible work to ensure our neighbors furthest from equity have access to critical resources. With his help and guidance, the King County Regional Governance Authority is moving forward and will be the conduit for transformational change in the lives of people experiencing homelessness throughout our region, and we have transformed our shelter system to serve more people with 24/7 services, which will be expanded even further in the coming months,” said Mayor Durkan. “I’m grateful that he chose to stay and support our city during the most challenging time in our history. His quick and decisive actions kept our most marginalized communities safe throughout the pandemic. Because of his vision and leadership, the Human Services Department is primed to build on these efforts for years to come.”  

“Over the last seven years, I have had the privilege of working alongside the most dedicated people in public service. Thank you to Mayor Jenny Durkan for her leadership, my cabinet colleagues for their continued support and partnership, and HSD staff for the mission-driven work they do every day that literally saves lives,” said Johnson.    

Mayor Durkan has appointed Helen Howell as Interim Director of HSD. Howell most recently held the position of Senior Director of Policy, Research & Social Impact Initiatives at the King County Housing Authority, while also overseeing Homeless Housing Initiatives and the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Prior to that, Howell served as the Executive Director of Building Changes, a Seattle nonprofit focused on reducing youth and family homelessness across the state. Howell enters the City with more than three decades of experience in public policy, advocacy, and leadership. Howell’s tenure will be on an interim basis while the City embarks on an inclusive, nationwide search for the permanent director. Incoming Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington, current Deputy Director of the Department of Education and Early Learning and formerly the head of the Homelessness Services Investments division, will lead the recruitment process and will announce the next steps for the search process in 2021 after working with employees. Howell will assume the Interim Director role in January 2021.   

Director Randy Engstrom is stepping down after eight years leading the Office of Arts & Culture. He will turn his attention to teaching, advocating for national cultural policies, and spending time with his family. In his eight years at ARTS, Director Engstrom has overseen several initiatives, including working to establish the Cultural Space Agency, the first cultural space affordability and anti-displacement program in the country; opening ARTS at King Street Station, a community-led exhibition space in King Street Station, opening with yəhaw’ an exhibition that featured more than 100 Indigenous creatives;  launching and implementing The Creative Advantage, ARTS’ comprehensive partnership with Seattle Public Schools to restore arts education to every student in the District; and establishing ARTS as a national model on the strength of its staff, from a relentlessly innovative cultural investment team to an award-winning public art program.  

“Randy has always been such a dedicated and passionate advocate for arts in our city, and under his leadership, the City supported countless nonprofits, artists, and cultural organizations, created a new home at King Street Station and new cultural districts across the city, and supported relief for artists and nonprofits in this immensely challenging year,” said Mayor Durkan. “The Office of Arts & Culture is at the forefront of the creative economy, pushes to invest in our Black, Indigenous, and People of color communities, and continues to lead one the nation’s most innovative public art programs. In the coming year, their work will be central as we commit ourselves to an equitable recovery that centers our most vulnerable communities, including our workers and artists who have lost so much during COVID-19.”    

“It has been the honor of my career to lead the Office of Arts & Culture for the past eight years. To every artist and cultural worker in Seattle and the vast, brilliant, and resilient cultural sector in our region; you are the center of all of the work we do,” said Engstrom. “As our city entered the myriad of crises that defined 2020 – COVID, economic collapse, and racial justice reckoning, I am proud to be part of the Durkan administration which seeks to re-imagine the way we do our work as a government. I am humbled and hopeful that the City may co-create a more equitable, creative, and sustainable city for future generations.”    

Mayor Durkan announced that Calandra Childers will serve as Interim ARTS Director, effective February 1, 2021. Childers, who joined ARTS in 2012, currently serves as the Deputy Director. Mayor Durkan will announce the next steps for a permanent leader of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture in 2021.