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DC Arts Advocacy Day Editorial: Cuts in mayor's arts funding jeopardize neighborhood revitalization

An "art car" on H Street during the 2011 H Street Festival

While the Mayor has proposed increasing the city’s capital budget to $5 million dollars per year over the next five years to support public art, he has also proposed reducing the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH) grant making budget from $14.435 million in fiscal year 2013 to $6 million dollars in fiscal year 2014. This cut will reduce the DCCAH’s grant making ability by 60 percent, impacting community-based non-profit organizations such as the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW), ARCH Development Corporation (ADC), the Atlas Theater and THEARC, just to name a few.

The link between economic development and the arts is irrefutable. Can anyone deny that the arts helped spark the transformation of H Street NE? It began with the opening of the H Street Playhouse, then the Atlas Theater, numerous galleries and, of course, the arts-centered H Street festival, now the most popular festival in the region which brings people to H Street in droves.  The opening of these venues coupled with the festival’s popularity led to increased interest in the neighborhood, new restaurants and retail.

In Anacostia, a similar transformation is now underway. The owners of the H Street Playhouse have decided to cross the 11th Street bridge and re-open as the Anacostia Playhouse. ADC will add a 10,000 square foot arts center this spring that will include a performance space and several art galleries. The annual LUMEN8Anacostia arts festival (also run by ADC) draws hundreds of people and provides local restaurants with their single highest revenue day, the equivalent of roughly three months of business in a 12 hour period.

Much of the programming, operations and general support of arts organizations depend on grants from the DCCAH. The grants help purchase costumes, pay electric bills and fund employee salaries.  Most arts professionals receive minimal compensation while working long hours to curate art exhibitions and produce theater programming. In many cases, groups like CHAW are the sole providers of arts education for neighborhood children. $15 million for arts grants is a minimal investment in a key component of our city’s infrastructure which yields enormous economic benefits.  How large is this yield? The DCCAH estimates that the arts contribute $1.4 billion to the local economy.

Despite the importance of the arts as a catalyst for bolstering economic development and strengthening communities, in this discussion one should also never lose sight of art’s most important role- its ability to lift the human spirit through a common language that transcends class, race and gender- an intangible quality which one cannot quantify in dollars and cents.

What can you do about increasing the DCCAH arts funding?
Contact your Council Member
Find him or her by going to www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us
Contact DC’s at-large Council Members and Council Chair:
Anita Bonds: abonds AT dccouncil.us
David Grosso: dgrosso AT dccouncil.us
David Catania: dcatania AT dccouncil.us
Phil Mendelson (Chairman):  pmendelson AT dccouncil.us
Vincent Orange: vorange AT dccouncil.us

The author is COO of ARCH Development Corporation and managing director of Honfleur Gallery, and editor-in-chief of East City Art.
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