Oversight Testimony

The oversight hearing for the DCCAH was today. It began at 4:30pm, and ended just after 8. Council-member Thomas and his staff (Rodgers and Pittman) were solid, as was representation from the community. It was interesting to see how many arts organizations delegated their participation to staff, rather than leadership. The E.D. (Russell) from Washington Ballet was there… the ballet knows the value of government relations well. They are the largest recipient of non-capital dc government funding in the last five years (over 3 million in earmarks and grants.)

A development person from Dance Place was there. Dance Place is one of the organizations potentially hardest hit by the NCACA reduction. I testified after her, and because she didn’t mention NCACA and their loss of funds, I figured I wouldn’t either. Maybe somehow the NCACA funds the president cut are being put back? Here is my testimony as I wrote it, and the portion enclosed in bold brackets I did not ‘offer’ live.

Testimony of Robert Bettmann to the
Committee on Economic Development
Chairman Harry Thomas

FY 12 Oversight Hearing for the

DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

March 16, 2011

Thank you Chairman Thomas, council staff, and members of the Committee on Economic Development for the opportunity to testify today.

The impact and influence of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities is incredibly positive, and is felt in every ward, and by hundreds of thousands of residents each year. Arts funding offers incredibly strong return on investment. The five million dollar FY 11 budget went out in over 300 grants to residents this past year. Collectively the budgets of those organizations and projects are hundreds of millions of dollars.

Arts funding has been reduced from over 14 million in FY 09 to under 5 million in FY 11, and those reductions have contributed to mass layoffs, project cancellations, and reduced arts education opportunities. Some businesses have combined, while others have gone out of business altogether. None in our community expect a bailout, but reducing arts funding further in FY 12 would really undermine recovery of the sector, and would jeopardize access to the arts for those who are already least served by the arts.

[Having not yet recovered from the general economic downturn and the FY 9, 10, and 11 reductions, the local arts community is already being hit by FY 12 reductions. That FY 12 reduction is within President Obama’s proposed federal budget through a massive reduction in the size of the National Capitol Arts and Cultural Affairs Program. While the federal budget numbers are not yet set in stone, it is unlikely that the Senate will put arts money cut by the President back into the federal budget this year.

The National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs Program was founded in 1985 to address the downward pressure of national arts institutions on the local arts economy. In any city the largest arts institutions draw the most focus from foundations, and private funders. The boards of the largest organizations, in every city, lead private giving, and while the presence of the Smithsonians and Kennedy Center is a great benefit for the local community, it has also created a strong downward pressure on the local arts community, not only in foundation dollars, but in board participation and private money. The Arena Stage, Studio Theater, Woolly Mammoth Theater, and others would not exist in their current forms without the National Capitol Arts and Cultural Affairs Program, and in FY 12 President Obama’s budget reduced Natioanl Capitol Arts funding from 9.5 million to 5 million. Before the mayor’s budget is even created, the local arts community has taken a huge cut.]

I’m here today because in addition to being a working artist I lead the DC Advocates for the Arts. The DC Advocates for the Arts facilitate arts community participation in public policy discussions, and serve as an informed, independent informational resource for policy- makers. Arts community support exists within complex and evolving educational, and development policy priorities, and I am available to provide historical, technical, and personal opinion on the current challenges.

I know that the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities is working hard to efficiently support the arts community. As a working artist the Commission is the only source of ongoing individual artists support in the area, and I hope that you will do what you can to influence your fellow committee and council members to support the budget of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Author: Robert Bettmann

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