Testimony of Anthony Gittens at the Roundtable on the Creative Economy

Prepared statement by Anthony Gittens
Director, Washington, DC International Film Festival

Committee on Housing and Workforce Development
Councilmember Michael Brown, Chairman
Public Oversight Roundtable on
Job creation and the district’s creative economy

Good Morning, chairman Brown. My name is Anthony Gittens and I am Director of the Washington, DC International Film Festival and, former Executive Director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. I am honored to sit before you this morning and would like to commend you and my friend George Koch for your leadership on the matter of job creation and the District’s Creative Economy.

Let’s look at the numbers. Washington’s Creative Economy is responsible for 75,000 jobs. That’s about 10 percent of all jobs in the District of Columbia and over 10,000 establishments. These jobs include architects, the culinary arts, and graphic artists as well, as performing artists and musicians.

A recent study by Americans for the Arts also found that nonprofit arts and culture are a significant industry in the District of Columbia, generating over $740 million in local economic activity. According to the Downtown Business Improvement District, Washington museum patrons contributed tens of millions of dollars each year in direct spending and indirect impact economic activity. Simply put, cultural activity boosts economic development. These are real statistics. We did not make them up. They were derived by responsible, reputable, independent organizations who conduct these types of studies across the United States. If any other industrial sector were to boast these types of numbers, it would be lauded. city officials would do everything possible to maintain it and provide as much encouragement as possible. Instead, in the past few years, the budget of the district’s cultural granting office has been slashed and much needed program funding to artists and organizations has been curtailed.

As a result, The Nutcracker is now being performed at the Warner Theatre to recorded music, instead of a live orchestra because the ballet simply cannot afford it. Participation in summer music camps has been reduced. Downtown and neighborhood festivals are threatening to be cancelled. An organization using art to give South East young men a new lease on life is struggling to maintain a home. art galleries are closing their doors. Staff have taken pay cuts and in many cases valuable employees have been let go. Indeed, Over the past few years, our Creative Economy has been greatly diminished.

When members of a society wish to secure that society’s rich heritage, they cherish their arts and respect their artists.   – Maya Angelou, Poet and author

Is the District of Columbia going to acquiesce its cultural identity to the National Mall? For visitors to Washington, is the District’s cultural vitality going to be limited to activities at the Kennedy Center and Smithsonian institution? What about those of us who live here? Who work, shop, worship and send our children to school here? What about our choirs, murals, performing groups, dancers, musicians, Latino theaters, art galleries, salsa bands, Chinese, Caribbean, Greek, Gay and Jewish festivals? Is our cultural expression second-class, or even worse invisible?

If city leaders need guidance in how to manage a limited budget, they should consult with the heads of our cultural organizations who perform miracles with nickels and dimes. If our leaders want to learn how to handle deep deficits, they should sit in on the art board meetings taking place all over this city, and watch as responsible board members courageously confront devastating financial realities and struggle to keep their doors open.

"In my own philanthropic and business endeavors, I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities." – Paul G. Allen, Co-Founder of Microsoft

The most recent study by Americans for the Arts (Arts and Economic Prosperity III) found that communities that invest in the arts reap the additional benefit fo jobs, economic growth, and a quality of life that positions those communities to compete in our 21st century. Other sectors often benefit from Washington’s Creative Economy. Arts organizations are often trail blazers and pioneers in some of our most unsettled neighborhoods. They compliment adjacent businesses and enhance property values. Studio Theatre was on 14th and P Streets well before Whole Food and the high-price condominiums. Gala Hispanic Theater was in Columbia Heights before Target, Giant food and Best buy. Before the new trolley cars begin to roll, the atlas performing arts center will have celebrated it 6th anniversary on H Street, NE. The Lincoln Theatre is an anchor of U Street, and The Arc is bringing new audiences East of the Anacostia River.

I have lived in Washington long enough to appreciate that economic downturns have a tendency to come and go. They are always painful and disruptive, but I can recall the time of the Control Board and deficits so deep that the Federal Government was driven to intercede. I recall 9/11 when tourists stopped visiting their nation’s capital, school buses stopped bringing their students, restaurants closed and hotel rooms stayed empty. Some of you might recall it was the arts community with its nationally recognized Party Animals exhibition that brought fun and whimsy to our streets and helped lift our spirits during that tough time. we are in a difficult situation, but it is nothing new. Our resilient city will come out of it. The question is how will we come out of it?

Will the District’s workforce and young people be ready for the evolved job market they will face once the economy refreshes? This is where encouraging the creative economy can play an even more important role.

Creativity and innovation are the fuel that now drives our global economy. Many of the types of jobs available prior to the downturn will not be there when the job market expands. Jobs dependent on routine activities are being exported. Service industry jobs continue to be low paying and dead-end. Innovative, focused and critical thinking will be key characteristics sought by employers. Employers will be seeking workers who can multi-task, develop ways to advance their business, and be ready to articulate and accept new ideas. Multiple studies indicate exposure to the arts is an effective way to develop these crucial skills.

Investing in our cultural assets now, nurturing our creative communities now will bring benefits in the future. In the business world, this is called research and development – investing now for significant payoffs down the line. Will our residents be ready or will the benefits of the new job market go to better-prepared residents in neighboring Maryland and Virginia, which has often been the case?

I would like to close my remarks with one last quote:

"It’s frustrating looking at New York and Los Angeles taking such interest in their creative industry. We don’t deal with it like it creates jobs and makes money. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do." – Michael A. Brown, Councilmember, Government of the District of Columbia

Thank you very much for your kind attention, and Happy Holiday’s to you all!