How does the District fund the arts?

What the city actually spends arts money on is maybe not what you would expect. Because of changes over the last decade, what actually gets funded looks odd to anyone who knows the arts in the District, with some smaller orgs receiving as much support as some of the largest orgs, and vast difference between funding levels of larger orgs.

  • The Kennedy Center received 18 grants totaling $245,978.59 between 2005 and 2010, equal to local arts provider the Washington Improvisation Theater which received 14 grants totaling $246,300.00.
  • The Washington Ballet received 25 grants totaling $3,419,759.00 between 2005 and 2010, while the Washington National Opera, with a budget five times the size of the ballet, received less than one quarter that amount: $737,519.00.
  • The Shakespeare Theatre received 19 grants totaling $474,620.00 while in the same period arts service organization the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington received 26 grants totaling $2,374,879 dollars.

The difference between what one might consider ‘expected’ versus ‘actual’ funding based on arts organization size and impact occurs for a number of reasons, including a lack of efficiency requirements for multiple DCCAH grantees, and political influence (or lack thereof.)

If the city is to focus on arts benefits for neighborhoods, tax revenue, arts education, or non-profit business growth, steps should be taken to ensure increased efficiency. Despite the inefficiencies, there is a great volume of tremendously positive benefits from existing funding, and potential exists to improve impacts without raising funding levels.  The political and economic concerns which created the existing system strongly influence reform.

This is post 1 of 2 or 3.

I am attaching here two spreadsheets so you can see the research I based this post on. The first spreadsheet is just by number of grants the groups that have gotten the most grants over the last five years, with the total dollar amount summed at the end of each. The second spreadsheet is the source data which I sorted to make the first one. It’s all payments made by the DCCAH — including pass-throughs — since 2005.

Spreadsheet one

Spreadsheet two


Author: Robert Bettmann

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