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In his budget for Fiscal 2008, Mayor Adrian Fenty has proposed $250,000 be set aside for the Lincoln Theatre, half of what the theatre requested. The sum would come from the fiscal 2008 budget for the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities, the Budget Support Act says.
But according to executive director Janice Hill, without a $500,000 sum from the city, the theater will be forced to abandon its subsidized programs—programs that are either free to the public or are produced by nonprofit organizations. That means no more high school graduations at the theater, no more free dance performances for middle schoolers, and no more annual events commemorating the Holocaust, Hill says. “It’s not good…I’ve asked for the city’s help. They have responded by giving us half of what we asked for.”
In January, the Washington Post reported that the 85-year-old Lincoln Theatre had $1,362 in the bank and might close unless it received an influx of cash fast.
Now, the theater is operating in the red. “We’ve borrowed deep into our credit line,” Hill says. “We are robbing Peter to pay Paul. This does not help us. Like all similar historical institutions, we cannot make it through rentals alone. This does not provide adequate help, nor assist in providing funding to re-tool the theatre to be a primarily, commercial facility.”
In February, the Fenty administration facilitated a grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development, Hill says, to provide cultural enrichment programs for underserved students and seniors, but that money was not earmarked for operational costs and cannot be used for the endangered nonprofit programming.
Meanwhile, the theater’s lease, under the U Street Theatre Foundation, is up in June, Hill says. And while the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development has proposed that a developer take over the historic theater, Hill says “that strategy would have to be handled very cautiously.” She worries a developer with commercial interests would have a “tough time responding to the original mission of the theater.”
Cutting the subsidized programs also threatens the theater’s mission, Hill says. These programs are “highly valued” and are part of the theater’s commitment to providing services to the community. For example, she says, 1,200 middle school students attended the Capitol Movement Project dance performance for free March 29. The Lincoln Theatre has also held graduation ceremonies for Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy, Booker T. Washington Public Charter School, and Roosevelt High School.
“The new administration…may not be educated or sensitized to the value, the passion, the energy the community feels,” about the theater, Hill says.
The mayor’s budget also proposes $500,000 for the Source Theatre, whose financial woes made headlines last year.
Carrie Brooks, spokesperson for the mayor, says that, in addition to the money included in the budget, the two theaters will be able to compete for additional funding through the city’s competitive grant process.