The Arts are Alive in DC! When do they come off life-support?

With the finishing of Arts Advocacy Day and the passing of the FY13 budget for the District, one has to wonder, “When will the arts be given the credit they deserve?”  It’s easy to pick on the arts, they don’t fight back with guns and legislation, instead choosing to war with paint, movement, and grace.

In 2009 the arts in DC were allotted $13 million, then the recession echo hit the budget and the arts were cut down to the scant amount of $3.9 million by 2012.  The other arts budget to take a massive hit was the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs program, which went from $9.5 million to just $1 million.  As the nation’s capital, the home of the largest museum in the world, the seat of government, and the bastion of America sitting on the Mason-Dixon Line, shouldn’t we do better than less than one half of one percent of the DC budget for the arts?

When you look at the revenue numbers compared to the budget allocation, the disparity is shocking.  In 2005, Arts and Culture organizations in the District paid $335 million in wages, $62 million in taxes, and created 11,000 full time jobs.


Bottom line: Arts = Jobs.


The Arts do more than just create jobs; they create community, a sense of belonging in our transient city.  The District attracts 16 million tourists a year, generating $5.6 billion dollars of spending.  We know that money is not all going to the restaurants on the Mall and the gift shops at the Smithsonian.  It’s going to the theatres, concert halls, and galleries throughout the city.  Examples of these are Arena Stage, Kennedy Center, Ford Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre, the Spy Museum, the Newseum, etc.  The list is endless (almost) and all of these institutions are major tourist draws.

This is why people come to our city.  There is a precedent of excellence in the arts that can only be compared to NY, and even then what do they have? Broadway, MOMA, and Times Squared?  So what?  We’ve got the Smithsonian and the National Mall, Mt. Vernon and Arlington Cemetery are a stone’s throw away, and the Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.  Dear NY, we win.

The money for DC arts don’t just go to these large institutions that everyone knows about, the funds go to arts education programs in every Ward, including Ward 8.  The arts in DC are helping to keep children in school, Young Playwright’s Theatre, recognized by the First Lady, is just one example.  The Arc in Anacostia is another; this facility hosts multiple organizations to educate not only the youth, but also the aging population in the arts.

We did get a small boost in arts funding for DCCAH for the FY13 budget: $7.6 million, if the federal funding comes through.  Otherwise it’s back down to just $5.1 million.  These amounts may not seem like much in a city that speaks in billions and trillions, but consider that a $50,000 increase in revenue is all it takes for an arts organization to break even.  Often these tipping point grants go on to increase overall revenue of the arts organization, causing it to grow and produce more jobs.  It’s cyclical and it only takes a little funding because arts organizations have learned to live on a shoestring budget.

Imagine what they could do to our city if they had more.  Do good and do well by doing art.  That should be our motto.


Thoughts? Ideas?

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