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Mayor Vince Gray laid out a lofty artistic vision for the city to a crowd of about 150 arts leaders yesterday—-one in which citizens of London and Paris would ponder what’s going on D.C.—-before his address took a sobering turn: Times are tough, he said, and “not everything takes money.”

It was, undoubtedly, a disappointing message for the organizations, many of which partially rely on city funds each year. Today, the Cultural Development Corporation—-which runs spaces like the Source theater and Flashpoint, as well as housing for artists—-and its executive director, Anne L. Corbett, sent the following letter to the mayor:

January 21, 2011
The Honorable Vincent Gray
Office of the Mayor
Washington, DC

Dear Mayor Gray,

I am pleased to hear that you consider the arts a vital component in the continuing effort to make Washington a world class cultural city and in catalyzing the economic development our neighborhoods need. I am sensitive to the financial challenges you face in leading the District at this time, but would challenge you to be sincere, thoughtful and strategic in your approach to the arts.

I would like to offer three ways to support and leverage the arts sector without spending money:

1. Empower the District’s arts leadership. Carefully select an experienced yet innovative new CEO for the Arts Commission. Complement that professional with a thoughtful, supportive Commission Chair. Then give them a regular seat at your table, engaging them in economic, planning, education, recreation and cultural policy issues.

2. Activate DC property with artists. Call on DRES to unlock vacant property in their portfolio and execute license agreements that will allow artists and arts organizations to program these properties. This effort will save the District funds spent on maintaining and securing empty properties and the new activity will generate new tax revenue.

3. Enable temporary occupancy. Call on DCRA to create a temporary certificate of occupancy that permits interim activities in vacant property awaiting development. Currently, temporary occupancy is often cost prohibitive because of capital costs necessary to meet code requirements.

Then when the revenue returns, reinvest. DC arts grant dollars leverage 90 cents in private contributions for every dime invested. That leverage creates jobs for DC residents. The arts sector has the potential to catapult our city forward economically and reinvent our national and worldwide reputation, not to mention building a dynamic quality of life for our citizens. Our city’s creative entrepreneurs and emerging artists and organizations are the most reliable engine in expanding the economy and creating new jobs. This combination of economic opportunity and creative vitality is what makes a city the kind of place in which you choose not to just live or work but to make a life.

Cultural Development Corporation and I stand ready to support your efforts. Don’t hesitate to call.


Anne L. Corbett
Executive Director