City Paper is not for tourists
Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham has announced that the Lincoln Theatre is on the verge of shutting down, reports DCist. In a meeting with the mayor Wednesday morning, Graham said the theater at 1215 U Street NW is broke. Mayor Vince Gray added that its business model is “not sustainable.“
A former fixture on Black Broadway, the city-owned theater is a historic arts venue in the District. It closed in 1983, underwent a $9 million renovation, and reopened in 1994. In recent years, the 1,250-seat theater has hosted concerts, comedy shows, plays and musicals, and a handful of Arena Stage productions while that theater was waiting on its new building in Southwest. But cash flow has long been a problem for Lincoln Theatre. Even with multiple public bailouts, the revenue from rentals has not been enough to keep the venue afloat.
Update: After an emergency board meeting Wednesday night, Graham will make an announcement about the building’s future at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Lincoln.
It remains to be seen how Lincoln’s possible closure may affect arts groups that have rented the venue this fall. Daniel Phoenix Singh, whose dance company is planning to host the Fall Festival of Indian Arts at the venue this month, says in an email: “We’ve partnered with Lincoln Theatre for over 6 years, and they have given us impeccable service in spite of having a skeleton staff and having to deal with political grandstanding like the one occurring now. Several theaters in DC receive federal subsidies because they are considered presidential memorials or other historic theaters—-why is there a double standard when it comes to the Lincoln Theatre—-the oldest continuously running African American theater in DC?” He says he is confident that the venue’s staff will “able to negotiate through this latest hurdle without any problems.”
Indie folk/country group The Civil Wars is also scheduled to play the theater on October 23. No word from promoter IMP on whether they intend to go ahead as planned.
In a phone call, Councilmember Graham said the biggest problem facing Lincoln is the lack of a substantial government subsidy. “I think we need to have…a better response from the D.C. government,” he says. “This is a very important institution to the African-American community and to all of us. And I just want to do everything I can to make sure it stays open.” As for Mayor Gray’s comment that the theater’s business model is not sustainable, Graham says, “I hope that was just an off-the-cuff remark.”
This post has been rewritten to include more recent information.