Testimony of DCAA Chair at 2010 Budget Hearing for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
Testimony of Robert Bettmann to the
Committee on Economic Development
Chairman Kwame Brown
Regarding the Draft FY 11 Budget for the
DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

April 27th 2010

Thank you Chairman Brown, council staff, and members of the Committee for the opportunity to testify today. As an artist, and Chair of the DC Advocates for the Arts, I am concerned with this draft budget. Gross funding for the arts has gone down, again. This will result in lost tax revenue. In this hearing many of my peers will talk about specific arts programs and arts education programs. They will tell you why cutting arts funding will hurt the city and their programs. I agree with every one of their reasons, and stand by their examples. Rather than go over the same material, today I want to focus on how the city could get more from the funding that does exist.

I have two central issues to raise today.

1)    Too little money is going to actual arts programming. Too much is going to staffing.

2)    The District’s arts agency is not encouraging organizations to succeed broadly. Granting money is not being awarded efficiently.

As total district Arts funding has dropped –- this year from 6.7 million to 5.8 million -– arts agency expenses have risen. Page B-109 of the proposed budget – the Personnel Services subtotal – shows another increase this year, up to 1 million and 10 thousand for FY 11 staffing. By percentage now, just under one in five dollars intended for the arts in the District is projected to be spent directly on agency staffing.

In part to justify those expenses, the draft budget projects federal grant funds to increase– from 729 to 751,000. But the NEA is actually expecting a small reduction this year, and the DCCAH will be lucky to hold the line on last year’s federal appropriation. Table BXO-2 in the draft budget shows the agency is again this year using NEA money for nine full time positions – a majority of their staffing. Given an appropriation of $700+ thousand, and an estimated cost of 50k for each full time position, most of the District’s money from the National Endowment for the Arts is not making it to the arts – it’s actually being spent on arts agency personnel.

City money is also not being spent on artists: less than one cent of every dollar in the agency budget goes to an artist directly. The agency now almost exclusively funds 501 c3 non-profit arts businesses, and that money is not being allocated as efficiently as it should be.

I’d like to draw your attention to the spreadsheet attached to this testimony. On the sheets are listed the arts organizations that received more than 4 grants from the DCCAH this past calendar year. Also listed are the summed amounts of grants received, and the organization’s publicly available budget filings. The data shows that one organization received 7 grants, totaling 57.4% of their budget. Another received just 4 grants, but totaling 59% of their budget.

The industry norm taught in arts administration programs around the country is that 6-10% of arts business budgets are expected to come from government sources, and we’ve got organizations receiving over 50% of their budgets from the DCCAH. The Maryland Commission on the Arts was able to preserve funding this year so that they could keep providing 6% funding to the businesses they support.

The funds that are being spent are not being administered as an efficient investment. The research shows that a few organizations – unable to motivate funding from foundations, individuals, corporate entities, or earned revenue – keep getting multiple grants. (As an aside, it’s important to note that the Commission’s partnership program is underfunded, and if strengthened could ensure that city priorities are efficiently funded.) A rule capping budget % that can be awarded per organization per year would encourage efficiency. As with city awarding of contracts, the issue in city awarding of grants is not that the money is being poorly spent, it’s that it’s being spent inefficiently, and inequitably.

When I ask you if you support the arts, I need you to say more than “Yes.” I need you to understand the details of the industry, and to design programs that actually reach the community, not just arts business interests. I know that you don’t have the time or staff to stay on top of all of the relevant information and issues. This is why the city should appropriate a percent of arts agency funding for arts advocacy. Arts advocacy organizations nationwide provide policy-makers information to inform appropriate policy on arts earmarks, arts in education, arts in development, and arts funding levels. Most Advocacy organizations nationwide receive dedicated appropriation. The city directly spends over 5 million on the arts each year, and a 50,000 investment through a 1% dedicated appropriation is efficient use of city arts funds.

Thank you for your time. I’m happy to answer any questions you have about my analysis.