Support Arts Education in the District on Arts Advocacy Day – April 27, 2011

Ava Spece, Executive Director at DC Youth Orchestra Program, asked if I would contribute a blog post for that organization’s blog about the upcoming Arts Advocacy Day. 

Arts education in the District is threatened. Non-profit arts education providers and the populations they serve are like the character in the movie Hustle and Flow who says, “I’m sitting here trying to squeeze a dollar out of a dime and I ain’t got a cent.”

There has not been a single community, or business, untouched by the recent economic decline.  The National Opera was forced to reduce from 7 performances to 5 for the past season, and in 2012 will be absorbed by the Kennedy Center in an effort to stave off further collapse. The budgets of most organizations have shrunk, and non-profit presenters are feeling a trickle up effect; with fewer rentals many theater spaces are struggling to keep the lights on. Washington, D.C. is not at all unique in these struggles. Last week one of the great orchestras in the United States – the Philadelphia Orchestra –– declared bankruptcy. Among surviving organizations, arts programs serving poor communities are in decline, as non-profit businesses focus on earned and donated revenue possibilities.

Sometimes we forget that non-profit businesses are just businesses, subject to the same forces that drive expansion and contraction in the rest of the economy. The DC Chamber of Commerce 2011 Policy Agenda states,  “The past year has proven to be a test for many of our members as they work to survive the economic downturn. And over the past year, the Chamber has been able to stave off legislative and regulatory initiatives that could harm our members’ ability to operate successfully and help grow our economy, create more jobs, and improve the District’s competitiveness regionally.” And that is where the DC Advocates for the Arts find ourselves as we prepare for Arts Advocacy Day – April 27, 2011. We are fighting to maintain support for DC students, and to protect opportunities for DC arts organizations and artists. Will only the wealthiest children in Washington, D.C. have access to the benefits of arts education? The outcome of the current budget fight will provide some of the answer.

Increased funding for DC’s arts agency, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH), is necessary to maintain access to arts education for lower income populations. Funding for the DCCAH has been gutted in the last three years, from over $14 million in FY 09 to under $5 million in FY 11. The District’s FY 12 proposed budget contains further cuts; the current proposal is $3.92 million to serve all of the arts organizations, artists, and arts education providers in the District. That is $3.92 million within a total District FY 12 budget of $10.8 billion. Contraction in the non-profit arts community is to be expected in this economy, but policy-makers need to protect those least able to bear additional burden. Just like Homeless services, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and general education funding, arts and arts education funding must be protected.

Music education teaches children discipline as it validates their individual voices. Private schools see how these kinds of opportunities drive student achievement not for individual children, but in the breadth of student populations. We don’t know which children don’t drop out because of music education. We don’t know which children focus that little bit more closely because they feel better about themselves due to music education. DCYOP and programs like DCYOP are reaching families week in and week out, and we need your help.

To support DCYOP and all of the arts providers in the District, on Wednesday April 27, 2011 – Arts Advocacy Day – please take a minute to ask policy-makers to support arts education in the District’s FY 12 budget. Contact Mayor Gray via email at or by phone at (202) 727-6300, and Council Chair Kwame Brown at or (202) 724-8032. We need your voice to maintain public support for arts education.  Please ask the Mayor and the Council Chair to support arts education, and to do that by restoring funding for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities to FY 2010 level – $5.16million.

Author: Robert Bettmann

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

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