Arts Desk

A Significant Increase in D.C. Arts Commission Funding? Not Exactly.

Mayor Vince Gray's proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 dropped today, and on first glance, arts boosters might be pleased with what they see: an increase to the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to $7,635,142 from $4,798,246. Unfortunately for them, the boost is not what it seems.

For the current fiscal year, the arts commission divvied up a piddly $3.7 million in arts grants, splitting the money between more than 200 organizations and individual artists. Compare this to nearly $14 million, the amount the commission handed out in fiscal year 2009, before the first of several slashes to its budget.

Alas, the bulk, $2.5 million, of the fiscal year 2013 increase represents a transfer of a federal program, the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs grants, that already funds a number of medium and large D.C. arts organizations, like Dance Place, Arena Stage, and the Kennedy Center. NCACA has shrunk in recent years—to the point that Arena postponed a production in its season in anticipation of more cuts. President Barack Obama's proposed federal budget suggests moving the diminished program, currently administered by the federal Commission on Fine Arts,  to D.C. control.

If the transfer happens—and amid Congress' testy budget deliberations, it may not—the additional $2,500,000 could conceivably aid more D.C.  groups. Right now, only off-the-National-Mall D.C. arts groups that raise at least $1 million a year for three years qualify for the grants. The funds are distributed according to a formula, not based on merit. But Lionell Thomas, the executive director of the arts commission, says that if the transfer goes through, his organization might ditch the current funding model in favor of a panel-review process similar to how commission grants are currently administered. The NCACA dollars would remain within a separate funding category, he says, although the qualifying criteria could change.

Take away the anticipated federal transfer, and that leaves $5,135,142 in city funds and other federal dollars—a smidgen more than last year's approved budget. The increase to the D.C. arts commission includes funding for two new full-time employees—an arts program specialist within the arts commission and an executive director for the Lincoln Theatre. Late last year, the commission took over the troubled U Street NW venue. The executive director position is part of $350,000 within the commission's budget that will cover the Lincoln's operational costs. (The mayor's budget also includes $1 million for capital improvements to the theater.)

There will probably be no increase in grant funding, Thomas said, adding that he supports the mayor's budget—and that he was pleased the arts commission didn't see any cuts this year.

Still, level funding is disappointing news to the local arts groups that lobbied over the past several months for an increase in the arts commission's grant pool. "The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities cannot maintain arts service in all eight wards with one quarter of the funding it had three years ago," writes Rob Bettmann, a local dancer and the advocacy chair of D.C. Advocates for the Arts, a group that helped lead a recent day of lobbying for increased arts funding. "I'm very disappointed by what we're seeing today."

Elsewhere, the Office of Motion Picture and Television Development got an increase of about $143,000, to $869,450 and the Office of Cable Television got an increase of $67,000, to $8,591,720.

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  • Marc Eisenberg

    This is terrible news. I've lived in DC for over 20 years and it's shocking, frustrating and embarrassing that the Mayor still doesn't get it! The budget for arts groups (theater, music, dance, etc) shouldn't ever be under $25 million plus given the population of our city. The arts are at the center of so much about what's fantastic about DC. Think of 14th St before Studio & Source, H St NE before Atlas, Columbia Heights before GALA, etc.
    I hope my neighbors will be loud and direct in complaining to their councilpersons.

  • Just asking

    "Office of Motion Picture and Television Development got an increase of about $143,000, to $869,450"

    What in the f*** for? With Crystal Palmer back swanning about and doing the same less then nothing she did for 20 years before Adrian finally had the good sense to can her these figure must reflect only an increase in cost for first class airplane seats between DC and LA. Knowing Palmer's grandiose self entitlement she is now probably salivating over private jet company brochures and confusing that with a day's work.

  • Respected Citizens

    The Lincoln Theater's General Manager, nor any of it's Executive Directors since it's re-inception have NEVER raised ONE DAMN cent via a fund-raiser and/or sponsor.

    The saving grace has always been lead by tax payers dollars, except for when a show is booked and those dollars pays for the overall use, space and staff logistics required.

    Lincoln theater needs not to have Arts & Humanities Executive Director released under Fenty, and now returning under Gray to provide the oversight. Where is his credentials in raising funds for a major theater of this type.

    Arts & Humanities can barely provide a small percentage for Art programs year-to-year. So, Lionell Thomas recommendation that $200K be allocated to recruit two (2) staff persons, as one remains whose been there and a new one is hired represents nothing but a repeat of DEPENDENCY on DC government for full funding.

    The Council must reassess how BEST the Lincoln is to run w/o depending solely on tax payers funding. Meaning, an effective management is critically needed to meet city dollars by 50% percent for the Lincoln theater, which has yet been done.

    See this explains why some folks are lucky to remain employed, as other knowledgeable individuals remains unemployed or under-utilize by our government.

    Lincoln needs a new vision that's inclusive, and management able to demonstrate their ability to operate the day-to-day and program as well.

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  • LincolnTheatre Neighbor

    I would like to first state that the General Manager was hired to book shows , manage staff and day to day operations. The numerous Executive Directors were hired to raise funding and do programming for the theatre. The General Manager has always and continues to bring in anywhere from $500,000 to 850,000 in rental revenue annually since 2001. At least half of the theatre's clients are from relationships she made during her touring years, to include Tyler Perry, Bishop T. D. Jakes, Walter Latham (Kings of Comedy promoter) and a lot more than that to tell you the truth!!! But as a local business and fellow U St. Neighbor she and I both agree that the theatre suffers due to a lack of fundraising and programming.