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Don’t Let Earmarks Return in D.C.

In 2009, the District of Columbia spent over $14 million on the arts. $5.4 million of that was in earmarks.

Earmarking is when a policymaker, outside of any actual policy process, dedicates (“earmarks”) public funds to something just because. Earmarks are an inefficient and quixotic way to achieve policy goals, and one could easily argue, represent an abuse of the public pocketbook. A resolution by the Trustees of Maryland Citizens for the Arts, Maryland’s arts advocacy organization, notes, “it is damaging to the integrity and fairness of [the] grant making process when the State Arts Council’s process is circumvented and operating grants are identified for specific organizations in the state budget,” and “any type of politicization of the grant award process will become self-perpetuating and grow if not strictly prohibited.”

Earmarks were eliminated in D.C. in 2010, and the policy climate had been improving for it. But Lettermarking, a first cousin of Earmarking, is trying for a comeback. Here is actual text of section six from a recent bill to support the arts in D.C.:

(6) The amount of $100,000 shall be awarded in fiscal year 2014, and the amount of $25,000 in each of fiscal years 2015 and 2016 as a competitive grant to a commercial music venue of historic and cultural significance in the District that features jazz performances in the District which are open to the public. The grantee must meet the following criteria: (a) Be a nonprofit organization with 501(c)(3) status or a for-profit corporation with primary residence and operations in the District for at least 45 years prior to the application deadline; (b) Hold a Certificate of Good Standing with the District of Columbia; (c) For the last five consecutive calendar years prior to the application deadline have hosted a minimum of 100 live jazz musical performances open to the public in the District in each year; (d) Demonstrate the highest level of artistic excellence; (e) Demonstrate an urgent need for improvements to the size and condition of its performance space, and spaces dedicated to supporting performance spaces; (f) Have an operating budget of less than $50 million; and (g) Be supported by its neighbors and neighborhood.

In case you’re confused, what that list of caveats (a) through (g) accomplishes is to allow support for a neighborhood jazz bar through a “competitive grant.” Obviously, (a) through (g) is so tightly defined that only one business can possibly fit the grant guidelines.

Government grant guidelines are not a joke. They define the policy expectation supported by the expenditure of our tax dollars. They should be thoughtfully designed to ensure efficient use of public funds. No matter the beneficiary, these kind of grant guidelines make a mockery of the competitive grant process.

Part of the problem is that no business can afford NOT to try and get an earmark if they’re being given out. This is the real world. As the current Apple tax hearing demonstrates, smart businesses take every advantage they can.

Earmarking and Lettermarking deny the city the pressure necessary to thoughtfully develop policy solutions, and they need to not be allowed to return.

Original Publication Huffington Post:

Arts advocates lobby D.C. Council for more money

by Eric Newcomer

Mayor Vincent Gray’s proposed budget slashed the budget for the Commission on the Arts and the Humanities, a grant-allocating agency that supports a number of District arts projects.

The proposed budget boosted large building projects in the arts to $5 million over six years. It also sets aside $250,000 to construct a “Creative Economy Strategy” for the District and another $15 million for the “One City Fund,” which will offer grants to a range of non-profits including arts groups.

But arts groups say that without financial support for the Commission on Arts and the Humanities, art projects in the District that got underway just last year will flounder.

“The arts do a lot of good across the entire city — all of that good is done with less than 1/2 of 0.1 percent of the D.C. budget,” said Robert Bettmann, the head of D.C. Advocates for the Arts. “It’s mind boggling to me that we’re arguing about this.”

Bettmann and fellow arts advocates have been lobbying council members to endorse increasing funding to $11 million.

Six council members have issued statements to the art advocacy group affirming their support for at a minimum maintaining the funding level in fiscal year 2013.

Most recently, Councilwoman Anita Bonds threw her support behind the effort.

“The District is a city full of talent and unique opportunities for aspiring artists. Let’s build upon our success and bring multi-faceted arts programs into our neighborhoods and incorporate them into our developments,” she wrote in a statement to the group. “I stand with you in your fight for stable arts funding for all these reasons and more.”

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans — who has been a fierce advocates for arts funding — has floated legislation that would direct more money to the arts if the city out-performs revenue estimates, which the District does on a consistent basis.

Gray put additional arts funding on a “wish list” if the District sees more revenues than expected and told The Washington Examiner that he’s open to more funding for the arts if the Council can find a way to pay for it.

Original Publication URL:

Bourgeon exemplifies multifaceted D.C. arts scene

by Kayleigh Bryant for Washington Examiner

Bourgeon, an arts magazine for the unpretentious, has now published a book featuring the works and voices of 50 local D.C. artists. The book’s group show held at Tryst on 18th Street on Thursday, May 9, 2013 featured selected works by three of the artists represented in the book, curated by Elizabeth Grazioli CEO of ArtSee, a local arts consultancy.

The Bourgeon book, Bourgeon: Fifty Artists Write About Their Work, is a project of the non-profit Day Eight and the brainchild of general editor, Robert Bettmann.

While the art presented may not meet the expectations of the art-elite it is no less representative of the passion of expression that is at the core of every artistic experience. The Bourgeon art philosophy boldly contends with the elitist assumption that good art must be inaccessible.

In the preface, arts journalist Leonard Jacobs exclaims, “At precisely the moment the nonprofits arts world hungers and thirsts for something that feels like unity, common purpose and cohesion, we are pitted against each other; faction against faction” (Bourgeon, xiii).

Outside of publishing, Bourgeon is many things: an artists’ collective; a nonprofit endeavor for culture, taste, and diversity; a passionate project to make the arts more accessible physically and intellectually; and a provocative alternative to the sometimes exclusive, academic, commercialized, competitive art world.

Featuring artists working in contemporary and traditional styles in dance, visual arts, and poetry – working in many mediums, the Bourgeon project encompasses the diversity of D.C. arts outside the galleries and museums.

The exhibition honed in on the diversity of the Bourgeon book, while only representing a mere 6% of the book. Featuring a photographer, a painter-collagist, and a watercolorist the exhibition holds true to the breadth of style, technique, and aesthetic represented in the book.

Camille Mosley-Pasley’s “Mama Love” photography series is well-titled. The warmth of maternal love exuding from each image is breathtaking. Her work is like that of commercial family portraiture but with the keen sense of a true artist, in composition and inspiration. Her essay in the book points to her father’s photography as artistic inspiration and sheds light on the familial themes in her work.

Megan Coyle calls her collage technique “painting with paper.” Her small handcrafted collages of D.C. cityscapes and nature are constructed of layers of magazine clippings, which are carefully selected based on lighting and shading. Each work consists of a purposefully-constructed color palette ultimately resulting in a well-crafted artwork.

Michele Banks examines microorganisms in her quilt-like watercolors. Her work consists of brightly colored grids, each box featuring a stunningly-detailed study of cells or other small living things. Her work bridges the gap between the sciences and the arts.

While the audience of Tryst is not the usual well-established, well-to-do, older stereotypical collector demographic, young Millennial-hipster newbies in art collecting should also be exposed to the opportunity to collect art.

In partnering with Tryst Bourgeon provides the opportunity for young people to explore the beginnings, or continuation, of their own private collections. Art collecting newbies can approach the Bourgeon exhibition with confidence knowing that as a “for-us, by-us” artist initiative the Bourgeon artists are peer-reviewed and advised by a committee. So the artwork represented has been properly vetted.

For those interested in beginning to explore art for themselves but are not yet ready to make the commitment to open their lives to a permanent art fixture in their homes or offices, the Bourgeon book is a good introduction into the works, styles, techniques, and aesthetics of D.C. artists.

Elizabeth Grazioli’s curation of the book show compliments both Bourgeon’s and Tryst’s personalities. The framing is casual and the hanging of works displays creative ingenuity that customers can re-create for their own home collections.

The show is well-constructed. Even without a distinct narrative the groupings of the works are reflective of composition, contrast, and concept. The works complement one another, despite their vast differences.

Being open to collaboration with local venues and organizations, Bourgeon has established a reputation for discerning taste in local art. Many of the Bourgeon artists have successfully sold their work, or had their work exhibited in local shows, offices, and even some galleries. Their project to fund the book, begun almost a year ago, met its donation goal in under a month, and gained them the attention of many art supporters including ArtSee.

Many of the artists, committee advisers and supporters of Bourgeon the magazine and the book are involved in other D.C. based art organizations including the D.C. Advocates for the Arts. Thus, Bourgeon is a representation of the multifaceted arts management, advocacy, and programming of D.C.

by Kayleigh Bryant

Original Publication URL:

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