Mini me

As the DC Advocates for the Arts are organizing and fighting to maintain the budget of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities this year, I’m spending some time looking deeper into the eco-system of DC arts funding. Did you know that in fiscal 2011 the Kennedy Center federal appropriation was $23,500,000 for operations and maintenance and another $17,447,000 for capital?  Or that the fiscal 2011 National  Gallery of Art appropriation was a full $110,460,000? Mayor Gray’s proposed 2012 appropriation for the DCCAH is 3.92 million, total, and keep in mind that last year the DCCAH gave out over 300 grants with a similar appropriation.

The DC Arts scene is complex. It includes a Federal scene, which is supported by Federal money, a Northwest local scene, and a neighborhood scene. The Federal scene includes the Kennedy Center and Smithsonians, and the Northwest local scene includes a small group of theaters, including Arena, Studio, Shakespeare. The neighborhood scene and to a lesser extent the Northwest local scene are supported by funding from the DCCAH. The Federal art folks apply and get grants from the DCCAH, but as % of their budgets,  that funding is a drop in the bucket that allows them to deliver more to locals (as opposed to the tourists.)

The National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs (NCACA) Program was created in 1985 to address the downward pressure of Federal arts institutions on District Arts organizations. It has significantly supported creation of the Northwest local arts scene (which also serves neighborhoods.) In any city the largest arts institutions get the most support 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 DC tourism, it has created a strong downward pressure on the local arts community, not only in foundation dollars, but in board participation and private money.

Since 1985 the NCACA program has provided operating support of between $250,000 and $450,000 per year to a small group of qualifying arts organizations in the District. The qualifying group has grown substantially since 1985 – from 3 when the program started, to 25 this past year. 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. In FY 12 President Obama’s budget proposed a reduction in National Capitol Arts funding from 9.5 million to 5 million. These changes are not final, but it seems unlikely that Congress will put money back into the arts this year. As we focus toward DC’s Arts Advocacy Day, and asking the Mayor and Council to support the local arts community, it’s appropriate to realize how dwarfed we are locally by the Federal arts scene, and Federal arts monies.

Will DC have local art, or will we only have Federal arts? These are questions being answered in the current Federal and District FY 12 budget debates.

– Rob Bettmann

Author: Robert Bettmann

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