I am the chair of the DC Advocates for the Arts. I REALLY care about the arts. The studio – the dance studio – is the place I feel most at home in the world. I believe in the arts, because they are my home. But you don’t make much money in the dance studio. You support the dance studio time (mostly) outside of the studio – through grants, commissions, performances, and teaching. That money… it’s hard to get.
I’ve gotten really involved in arts advocacy, in part, because I believe in myself. Advocating for the arts en masse has been a way for me to defend my own choices. But at this point I’m uncertain what I’m fighting for. Funding is the only issue I’ve been able to get people to talk about regarding Arts Advocacy. Not priorities in funding, not efficiency in funding, just funding.
I believe DC does need arts advocacy. But not to advocate for funding. Due in no small part to the granting programs that spend the money, over the last ten years there are a larger number of mid-sized organizations drawing funding with professional development staff, and the stream of small orgs and individual artists stays constant. Nobody talks about patronage, cause it doesn’t serve them to do so, but there is a reason why more money is spent in NW DC, and the reason is the relationships that exist. Not the quality of the artists, or the possibility for arts businesses. Collegial support systems develop between staff, consultants and arts administrators, and no rules exist to manage those relationships toward the public good. Arts businesses are just businesses.
This city has – per capita – a very large arts scene, as appropriate to a locale where a major revenue stream is tourism. But how do we efficiently ensure that every child receives real arts education? How many stable mid/large sized organizations should the city be supporting? How can funding programs really encourage the kind of art that will best serve this city? What categories of art do we need to encourage to best serve this city? How can the arts leverage community development? How can we maximize government investment in the arts for revenue growth?
We cannot expect politicians to actually be experts on everything under the sun. Advocates must inform and educate themselves so that they can contribute to the dialogues, and pressures, which politicians manage on a daily basis. Does dc need arts advocacy? Yes. Because the politically expedient decision and the right decision are sometimes two different things. We might wish that arts business leaders would selflessly contribute to open ongoing intelligent policy discussions, and the needs of the city. But perhaps it’d be better to plan within the reality that exists, and build a broad, participation-driven advocacy organization.