3 Facts About Earmarks that the City Council Should Know

This isn’t a policy paper below. These are my thoughts after working out at the gym. I do think I’m right, I’m just hedging for the reasons you’d imagine. Here it goes:

3 Facts About Earmarks

1. They infantalize the arts community.

The earmark process turns professionals into professional suck-ups. Filing grant applications is reasonable. Making us need to establish succubent relationships with you to get what we need is dis-respectful to all involved. Everyone likes people who give them money. We’ll bring you flowers if you let us. But it exposes that somewhere in there, politicians think of artists/the arts community as pets. The city would benefit from being a real world class arts center. If you make the arts community a petting zoo, thats all its gonna be. You have to take yourself out of the equation. The work we’re doing isn’t meaningless. You need to respect it beyond politics. It’s like religion. It’s art. Please participate, and get out of the way.

2. They undermine the ability of the State arts agency/ DC Commission on the Arts to effectively design integrated community support/granting programs.

Using earmarks – two or three a year – is one thing. But using em constantly to grow organizations and fund special projects It would be absurd if I was walking into the DPW and after listening to a friend of someone who lives on a street spend one quarter of the DPW budget on something more or less out of the blue. Its nonsensical. Thats what you are doing when you write earmarks. Haphazard support is wasteful support. Support must constantly evolve and it requires attention. The decisions you allow yourselves to make in a few hours undermine all that attention. Put your faith in the experts youve hired to get it right and make certain they do. If you are committed to getting the maximum return on the citys investment,  you need to give the commission more money (including a discretionary fund that could be used – with oversight from the commissioners – to handle emergency-type need), and make us stop grabbing for scraps at your table.

3.They skew the success curve toward fundraisers, away from artists.

Artists – and the arts organizations that serve them – are notoriously NOT politicians. Right now the organizations that are getting the extra pieces of the pie are the ones who are the best at development work. Are you trying to fund an arts program or are you handing out pie to people who court you well? Do you know enough to really know what our community wants/needs? What it already has, and is already developing? Have some patience, and faith in the process you oversee. I know you’re only trying to help, and they’re all around, and very nice, and very convincing. I know that. And you do help with earmarks – a few a year. But for the reasons outlined above, its not really good for the city.

To sum up I’d like to add two things. One: I really want an earmark, and would make excellent use of the one-time investment. Two: the problem with earmarks isn’t transparency, or funding unworthy things. Infantilizing, skewing programming, funding fundraisers not artists… that’s the problem.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.

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