Outside the entrance to Monday’s mayoral candidates’ forum on the arts at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, attendees were invited to sign a “pledge to ensure the arts and culture continue to thrive in D.C.” Not exactly a lot of controversial specifics there, making it safe for an assortment of mayoral wannabes to plunk their John Hancocks down amidst those of a couple of hundred arts advocates.
Inside, the platitudes continued. The District’s arts budget has been eviscerated over the past four years, but this evening, the only thing the candidates were sure of was that they, uh, like art. “I have art on every inch of my wall,” said At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz. “Without artists, we wouldn’t have the Washington Monument or the Capitol Building,” added At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil. Brazil also mentioned that one of his campaign workers is “in the arts.”
Not that the forum lacked for half-baked promises. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, a leading booster of the downtown real estate boom, proposed to somehow identify buildings, the ones that haven’t been turned into Hard Rock Cafes, for use as “artists’ havens.” Former Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams promised to help create a local arts endowment. Several candidates pledged aid in building a multipurpose cultural center or talked up school arts programs. And restaurateur Jeffrey Gildenhorn’s path to building Paris on the Potomac involves advertising D.C.’s arts on other cities’ cable TV systems.
The best question of the evening came from Post reporter Megan Rosenfeld, who asked the candidates to name the last show they’d seen. Five of the seven actually pulled it off: Schwartz saw Ragtime, Gildenhorn saw Showboat, D.C. Statehood Party candidate John Gloster saw Black Lenore, Evans saw a Rolling Stones concert, and Ward 7 councilmember Kevin Chavous saw Brothers of the Night.
Brazil, on the other hand, mentioned an unspecified “African arts exhibit.” And Williams recalled that while mulling his run for mayor he would wander from his office over to the National Gallery of Art for “a time of meditation, reflection, and otherwise spacing out.”—Michael Schaffer