State of the State Report – March 2016

Every year arts advocates from around the country convene, organized by Americans for the Arts, to advocate for increased federal arts funding. Each state submits a reports summarizing arts policy conditions. Here is the report submitted for D.C., written by Robert Bettmann.

State of the State Arts Report
March 2016

Washington, D.C. is experiencing several trends coincident with the experience of other major cities, including a crisis in affordability. There is a sense of expendability, and displacement, in several arts communities leading to strong organizing energy and we hope to make it easier for those efforts to produce results. The city does not yet have a mechanism to support artist organized and community organized arts spaces, and it seems like almost every quarter another space is threatened, or forced to close. We’re supporting policy-maker exploration of options, including arts zones, tax relief, and specialized grant programs, and Arts Development is the foci of our upcoming local Arts Advocacy Day.

A legislative branch initiative to develop a new comprehensive plan for the arts is underway. The open threat of a new system for arts support is likely to engage a lot of jockeying for visibility and that could affect advocacy outcomes. (Our last downturn in arts funding occurred during the creation of the prior plan.)

Last year, as a member of the Mayor’s Transition Committee, I contributed to conversation regarding potential goals for her first quarter, first year, and first term in office. One of those goals was to increase structural efficiencies to enable policy development. Shortly after taking office the mayor combined the Office of Film (which facilitates permitting and shooting of films in the district, serves as a limited resource to local film makers, and makes some small grants) with the Office of Cable Television (which runs our local government channel.) The combined Office of Film and Television is now serving all types of media production – including web. A recent bill made some appropriate adjustments to how DC structures its film tax credit program (setting a bar for minimum expenditures, qualifying expenditures, and % of those expenditures that may be reimbursed.) A bill recently out of committee would create a “DC Made” branding initiative to encourage local small business participation.

Over the last five years the arts budget has grown from under $4 million to over $17 million per year, and we continue to fight for necessary increases. We’re looking at new ways to make that case.

May 7th, 2016 will be our fifteenth consecutive Arts Advocacy Day, and I am only the second chair. I’ve now been chair for almost as long as the first chair and over the coming months we’re pushing for new leadership. We’re inviting community leaders and stakeholders to help host Arts Advocacy Day (free of charge) and will be adding a new cohort of Board members sometime after the event.

– Robert Bettmann
Board Chair, DC Advocates for the Arts