Jamal Gray
Jamal Gray Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

In early June, the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music, and Entertainment (OCTFME) launched a census that will evaluate D.C.’s music industry and creative economy. Anyone working creatively in the local music industry can fill out a survey until July 17.

Do you consider yourself a community activist for music? Did you learn music in a faith-based context? In what ZIP code do you practice music? Do you have a music mentor? Are you self-taught? How many hours per week do you spend on your music/music work? Are you a registered songwriter, publisher, or recording artist? The survey wants to know.

According to the DC Music Census website, participants must “live within the DMV metro area,” “have a professional interest in music (such as work creatively in music as a musician, or participate in any music-related product or service industry),” and “answer questions as accurately and truthfully to the best of your ability.”

Local musician, artist, and curator Jamal Gray didn’t know what to think of the census when he first heard of it early last year. “Are we going to take a count of the number of working musicians in D.C.?” he asks. “There’s a lot of conversations about arts and how can we better serve or fund artists, but what will this actually do? I’m like alright, we’re adding another level of bureaucracy. I wish there could be less red tape … it rules a lot of funding bodies and opportunities here.” 

Gray, a D.C. native who lives and works in the District, counts himself fortunate to have first heard about the census from influential people like Maryann Lombardi, who worked on the 202Creates mayoral initiative, saxophonist and jazz advocate Herb Scott, and Funk Parade co-founder Chris Naoum. “I saw people posting about it,” Gray says, “but the average artist around town doesn’t have access to the people who’ve been an integral part of the project. There’s going to be apprehension because of how they view the administration.” 

Artists like Gray are hesitant after the city’s first Cultural Plan landed in April, which contained a proposal that would change art grants into loans. City Paper reported on the arts community’s anxious reaction to the plan, including the formation of the Concerned Members of the DC Arts Community group. 

“I’m wondering, is the city government going to use you, use us, to usher something in that’s just marketing for the city? Like a Trojan horse?” he says. “What are they going to do to change the culture and encourage people going out to local venues to see local talent?” 

Data from the census, run in partnership with Georgetown University, which co-sponsored and co-funded the initiative, and implemented by “music ecosystem” think tank Sound Music Cities, will be released during Mayor Bowser‘s 202Creates—a month-long celebration of the local creative community in September. What comes next is less clear.

“This census is in direct response to the music community’s desire for us to understand our creatives and identify solutions and opportunities in the industry,” OCTFME Director Angie Gates tells City Paper via email. “We will leverage the data to develop the city and community partnerships that are necessary to take meaningful action to address the results of the DC Music Census.” OCTFME says about 1,300 people had completed the census in the week of its launch

“The intention seems good,” Gray says. “But we’ll see what actually happens. If they commit to this intention, then I think it will be a great thing, but if they don’t make that commitment, then to most people it’ll seem like business as usual.” 

Gray says that he probably won’t be participating the census, and will instead find his own way to propel, support, and amplify artists. “If the Kennedy Center were running this, I’d be more into it. They’re a good example of a proven commitment to local artists, to paying them for their time. It’s part of their business model. But I don’t think it’s a part of the D.C. government business model.”  

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