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This post has been updated.
More than a year after the draft was released to the public, Mayor Muriel Bowser released the city’s first Cultural Plan this evening, and it’s … a lot. At more than 200 pages (!), the Cultural Plan outlines the past, present, and future of D.C.’s creative class, culminating in a robust framework for how the city can and will grow its cultural community. Years in the making, the Cultural Plan was a joint effort between the Office of Planning, the Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment, and features input from “more than 1,500 community members and cultural stakeholders.”
That is all to say: A lot of time, money, and people went into drafting this plan.
Digesting the full report will take time. But here are a few big takeaways, along with a number of unanswered questions about the Plan and its implementation.
1. The Office of Planning is hiring an arts planner.
Buried in a number of short-, mid-, and long-term recommendations outlined in the back of the Cultural Plan is an interesting directive: The Office of Planning will hire an arts and culture planning position to oversee the implementation of the Plan’s policies and initiatives.
This makes sense, as a lot of the Plan centers on making and preserving spaces—affordable housing, artist studios, performance venues—for the arts community. “We call it a cultural planner position,” says Office of Planning director Andrew Trueblood. “It will be split between Arts and Humanities and the Office of Planning, understanding [that] the Commission of Arts and Humanities is really an organization that’s meant to operate, give out grants, run programs. Office of Planning isn’t necessarily a programmatic agency but what we can do is really help guide, given all the information that we have and the expertise that we’ve gained.”
2. 112,000 people in D.C. are “employed in cultural economy.”
According to the Plan, an employment analysis found that there are 112,000 full-time employed “cultural creators” in the District. This includes: 330 writers and authors; 300 photographers; 310 musicians; 160 fine artists; 80 craft artists; 170 art directors; and 110 multimedia artists. This number seems pretty low, and to its credit, the Plan says “the data are likely incomplete due to limited self-employment reporting requirements.”
3. Affordable housing for artists comes up a lot.
It’s no surprise that access to affordable housing is a main concern for artists in the District, as it’s a main concern for pretty much everyone in the District that struggles financially. The Plan outlines a way to help connect artists with affordable housing resources through “toolkits” that basically explain D.C.’s existing housing policies, like inclusionary housing, housing programs, rent supplement programs, affordable dwelling units. Basically, there’s not too much here that isn’t already available for artists seeking affordable housing.
4. The city wants to bridge the National Mall gulf.
The District’s partnerships with federal cultural organizations—or the lack thereof—is another bullet point in the Cultural Plan. “The District will form closer relationships with federal organizations, such as the Smithsonian Institution,” the plan reads. “Several federal cultural organizations already partner with local creators to develop innovative programs that increase engagement among District residents.”
Artists in the city know that the Mall works more like a moat: Museums and other institutions have long been off-limits for local artists. Private institutions, namely the Phillips Collection and the Kreeger Museum, make a point of showcasing local artists, but access to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and other art institutions in the Smithsonian’s portfolio is spotty at best. While work by D.C. artists can be found in several federal collections, it’s rare to see national museums shine a spotlight on D.C., much less collaborate with local galleries.
The few existing partnerships between federal and local arts organizations look promising. Consider This IS Hawai’i, a 2010 team-up between the Logan Circle arts incubator Transformer and the National Museum of the American Indian. In an unlikely, and maybe unprecedented, pairing, the tiny P Street gallery and the National Mall museum featured work by emerging indigenous artists from Hawai’i at the same time.
More collaborations are warranted, and according to the Plan, they’re in the works. “Going forward, the District will forge stronger mutually reinforcing relationships with federal cultural organizations to increase resident interaction while encouraging increased opportunities targeted to their host city,” the Plan reads. That’s a worthy ambition, but the Plan doesn’t get any more specific than that.
5. A “multi-sector Implementation Steering Committee” will be established to help with implementation of the Plan. What is the “multi-sector Implementation Steering Committee” and who will be on it?
To go from Plan to action, we’ll needs a roadmap. There’s a plan for that: A “multi-sector, interdisciplinary” Implementation Steering Committee will be responsible for actually doing all the things outlined within the city’s cultural framework. The committee was authorized by the same legislation that gave form to the Cultural Plan.
According to the Plan, the Steering Committee will establish an “online central clearinghouse for networking, mentorship, professional development and partnership opportunities.” The Steering Committee will also “work with nonprofit partners to increase programming in public space and facilities that create accessible opportunities for residents to create and connect with consumers.” And it’s also up to the Steering Committee to work with partners such as DestinationDC and EventsDC to “launch a multi-pronged promotional campaign that resonates with District residents while attracting more cultural visitors.”
The Implementation Steering Committee has its work cut out for it. Those are just three top-line responsibilities, but the final guidance is peppered with duties assigned to this group. Who will be on it? Most of the figures are known.
According to the Plan, this committee will comprise three members from “the arts and creative economy;” one representative from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development; the director of the Office of Planning; the executive director and chair of DCCAH; the director of OCTFME; a designee for the Chair of the Council; a designee for the Committee on Finance and Revenue; and the executive director of the D.C. BID Council.
Consider the Steering Committee the fellowship that will make sure that the Plan goes, well, according to plan. Given how much the work of the Plan falls to the committee, the success or failure of the Plan will hinge on who takes those committee seats.