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.

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May 2013

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

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May 2013

Community Engagement in the Arts with Think Local First

Two nights ago I sat on a panel discussing Community Engagement in the Arts as part of the Do Good Summit in Washington, D.C., produced by the non-profit Think Local First. Think Local First supports local businesses, and we’ve included one of their “Ten Reasons to Buy Local” in DC Advocates for the Arts advocacy talking points for several years:

“For every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 goes back into the community and our tax base…Embrace what makes us different. Our one-of-a-kind businesses are an integral part of the distinctive character of our community.”

Arts businesses are local businesses, and I was happy to be on this panel for Local First with Mike Abrams (Manager at Union Arts), Philip Hutinet (Editor in Chief at East City Arts and Lumen8 Anacostia), Peter Chang (co-founder of No Kings Collective), Travis Bowerman (Deputy Director Cultural DC) Ian David Moss (Research Director at Fractured Atlas and Editor-in-Chief at Createquity), Daniel Conner (Policy Advisor to DC Council Member Tommy Wells), and Moshe Adams (Grants Manager for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities), moderated by Micah Greenberg.


The author speaking at the Do Good Summit panel on Community Engagement in the Arts. Photo (c) Ben Droz

Our individual professional foci influenced the discussion. Phil Hutinet, who works in the developing Anacostia area of D.C. highlighted the value of the arts in stabilizing communities. Peter Chang, who produces art shows, talked about the need for space. Ian Moss, who researches and writes for a living, talked about the need for additional research. Wearing my arts advocacy hat, I talked about the need for stable arts funding, and the DC mayor’s recent cut to arts funding. We all talked about more than just those things, but our personal and professional bias was possible to spot.

Another thing that was possible to spot was that we were all men.  It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Two of the panelists were last minute replacements for women. The absence of females on the panel was an anomaly, and not a reflection on the host, or host organization. Regardless, our ‘hyper masculinity’ was noticed. One attendee, tweeted, “#Seriously though! #dc #arts #fail”, and walked out. In reply to a tweeter who noticed her leaving, she tweeted back,  “yeah, that was me, protesting with my feet.”

The full panel at Tropicalia, April 29, 2013.

The full panel at Tropicalia, April 29, 2013.

Gender disparity in the arts is real, and audience response was appropriate. The book I recently edited, Bourgeon: Fifty Artists Write About Their Work, includes an article about the DanceUSA study that documents 86% of the largest U.S. dance companies are run by men (artistic and executive directors combined.) Choreographer Gesel Mason says in the article that in a female dominated industry, the existence of a small minority having power over the majority resembles “a kind of apartheid”. While the gender of our panel did not reflect the values of the hosts, or the panelists, it highlighted the importance of inclusion, even if what we said as a panel was un-affected by our gender.

I tweeted about the issue during the event with Jess Solomon, a D.C. based cultural worker. Following up after, Jess cleanly articulated an important take-away: “Conversations are what shape communities. When there is a presumed homogenous group having a conversation about interventions (ie. art and development) that will affect groups of people that are not part of the conversation, it’s a problem.”

May 2013