Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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It’s a time of transition for D.C.’s arts community. And with big transition comes concern. Earlier this month, the District released its first Cultural Plan—a comprehensive analysis of the past, present, and future of the city’s creative economy that outlines how the city can most effectively grow its artist community—and many local arts organizations and artists have expressed concern over it.

Coupled with similar concerns about the state of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities—one of the three District agencies who co-authored the Cultural Plan (the Office of Planning and the Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment were the other two)— the city’s arts community is on edge about the state of District-funded arts in general. 

Tonight at Eaton Hotel, a new group called Concerned Members of the DC Arts Community is hosting the DC Arts Forum so people can raise concerns about the state of the DCCAH and assess the needs of the city’s many cultural communities.

Quanice Floyd, a DCCAH commissioner who represents Ward 6, is one of the co-organizers of tonight’s forum, and says it was organized “as a safe space for small arts organizations and artists” to talk about concerns about the Commission’s changes.

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“A lot of the commission conversation has been leaving those voices out,” she says. “I’m hoping this event will help amplify those voices.”

The changes include a revamped and reorganized 2020 budget proposal that redirects 25 percent of the DCCAH’s budget from funding for grants that go to artists and arts organizations. Instead, this money, about $8.4 million, will fund new line items under the Cultural Plan, namely loans: $5 million for a Cultural Facilities Fund and $2 million for an Innovation Entrepreneurship Loan Fund.

Floyd is one of 17 of the DCCAH’s independent volunteer Commissioners who are appointed by the Mayor and approved by the D.C. Council. The independent volunteers who make up the Board of Commissioners have several functions but one big responsibility: approving a range of roughly $12 to $16 million in grants to artists and organizations every year. But with such a large chunk of the DCCAH’s grant-making budget shifting to loan programs within the Cultural Plan, many artists and arts organizations are concerned about where the money will ultimately land.

“One thing that came out during the Fiscal Year 2020 hearings was that there was no transparency in the Commission, so I wanted to create a space to talk about that,” says Floyd about tonight’s forum. “A lot questions are up in the air with the Cultural Plan, especially with giving grants out to small arts organizations.”

Some arts leaders worry that changes associated with the Cultural Plan will divert funds from where they are needed. Fair and equitable access to capital for renovations or maintenance is a top priority for organizations in D.C., for example. But the money allocated to facilities is not enough, according to Kristi Maiselman, executive director for CulturalDC, a nonprofit arts incubator. CulturalDC applied for $55,000 in grant funds for critical maintenance needs at the Source Theatre this year; the organization got $13,000.

“What the current budget is proposing is loans—capital loans,” Maiselman says, referring to a new line item in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget. “I already have a mortgage. I don’t need to borrow more money.”

Tonight’s forum takes place at 7 p.m. at Eaton Hotel and Workshop. 1201 K St. NW. Free.

Additional reporting by Kriston Capps.