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By Patrick Cavanaugh

Arts Advocacy Day Recap

I was fortunate to be able to attend the 2015 Arts Advocacy Day, hosted by the DC Advocates for the Arts, at the Corcoran’s Hammer Auditorium and GW Marvin Center on Saturday, April 25. Although forced to miss the Kingman Island Bluegrass Folk Festival, hearing from the remarkable speakers and community advocates provided for a meaningful experience that more than made up for lost music vibes with newly found creative inspiration.

Kicking off the day was Robert Bettmann, serving as master of ceremonies and introducing the idea of Being Art Positive. As Board Chair of the DC Advocates for the Arts, Robert detailed their campaign for increased arts funding as important for all the arts, that in our progressive attempts to lobby on behalf of particular art genres we do so without negating any parts of the whole. A rising tide lifts all boats, and increased funding is important across the board in the arts and humanities.

Following the recitation of a poem by Gregory Luce (2014 Larry Neal Award Winner, local DC Poet), we kicked off a series of rapid-fire keynotes from influential leaders in our DC Community. Unfortunately, Kay Kendall (Head of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities) did not appear but the other speakers provided quality and insightful content.

Andrew Taylor (Professor of Arts Administration at American University) is an author, lecturer, and researcher exploring the intersection of arts, culture, and business with a popular weblog called The Artful Manager.

He was eloquent. Providing gems like:

  • Advocacy is never generic. When you advocate you must know who is the audience, what is the action I want them to take, and what do they value — so we can align our solutions.
  • When public officials like to say “happiness is not my job” we must remind them art is a public good, art is relevant, it’s important. The public sector role is to provide the climate and material conditions for the arts as an economic generator, creating better, smarter people and positive civic environments.
  • The arts and humanities are deep human expression, making something valuable with what you have around you – making use of the full spectrum of physical and emotional tools, artists can hold two views in same brain, an even greater value in this time.

Richard Reyes-Gavilan was up next, speaking on how he comes to Head the DC Public Library system with almost 19 years of public library experience in Brooklyn, NY. There are big plans for the Library, with a large scale renovation planned for the MLK Library, in their efforts to evolve programs and services away from transactional and into transformational.

I asked Richard what the plans were for the Dream Lab during the project, mentioning the Reeves Center here on U Street as a feasible, temporary venue, and he had recently brought the same idea into discussions.

Ed Lazere leads the work of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, the primary source of independent information on the DC budget and one of the most influential policy organizations focused on the District. He spoke on one of the more voiced issues of the day, affordable housing and the role of developmental policy in creating artistic spaces.

The inclusionary zoning program is one I’ve witnessed first-hand in the continual development of the 14th and U Street Corridor, where we have a tremendous inventory of high-priced condos and ever lower volume of reasonable residential options.

David Garber is an ANC Commissioner, community development and local economy advocate, and spoke of District living and importance of arts support.

Joy Ford Austin, Head of the Humanities Council of DC, gave a good reminder of the importance of keeping the “and Humanities” attached to the advocacy of the Arts. As small as arts funding is, the humanities receive an even smaller percentage of that, and with the amount of historic preservation and experiential opportunities in the District, our support is crucial in sustaining these vital programs.

And finally we had former Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham share war stories from his days on the council, including his battles for additional parking control officers for which he received 400k each in appropriations. From that he earmarked nearly 11 million dollars, 100k for his muralsdc program. Graham didn’t stock the audience with fans though, with a few advocates decrying his ending the Go-Go concerts at Club U while on the council.

Replacing Jim Graham in Ward 1 is Brianne Nadeau. She responded to a candidate survey from Arts Action DC noting her feelings regarding the Arts and Humanities. I feel she will be an ally, and has already been involved with backing creative arts events in the community, like Funk Parade. Happening this Saturday, May 2, it got a few shout-outs during the day as an example of bringing the benefits of the arts to the people, while also confronting the pains of bureaucratic and small business hurdles in that process.

From there, we had a short break while the stage was set for a six-person panel discussion. Similarly tied to a short schedule, the discussion was reduced to single question introductions, but there was some back and forth added to the end. Unfortunately the q&a period was marred with audience comments, rather than questions, but so it goes.

George Koch, of Artomatic and Center for the Creative Economy wants to call it creative industries. He urges us to look at the UK and European Union 10 years ago for inspiration. This notion of the “Creative Economy” is not exactly a new method for arts advocacy, grounded in numbers for the policymakers and business industry who know only what can be measured statistically. Calculating the impact of the arts and humanities is as much qualitative as quantitative, however, in addition to serving as economic generator.

In the spring of 2010, the Washington DC, Economic Partnership and the DC Office of Planning released the Creative DC Action Agenda. The purpose of the study was to quantify and put into context the creative economy of the District of Columbia—a sector that includes design, film and video, media, museums and heritage, visual and performing arts, and culinary arts.

The study found that the creative economy accounts for more than 75,000 jobs—about 10 percent of all jobs in the District of Columbia—and over 10,000 establishments. These creative jobs account for approximately $5 billion in wages.  It also laid out a strategy to strengthen the District’s creative economy.

Eric Shutt, Senior Creative Strategist at iStrategyLabs, has a similar role to my own at BRINK, including his “work with creative and commercial clients to develop media strategies that unify marketing channels into a cohesive media effort online, in print, and on the ground.” Serving as an example, I guess, of the different avenues to creative economy, he shared his work in account-client-internal team management, and the process of discover-plan-execute.

Peter Corbett started ISL, his presentation at IgniteDC a few years ago was The Future of the Social Capital, making DC the home of social innovation (Social Technology, Social Entrepreneurship, Social Change). I wonder how an epilogue to that would look at this point in time.

Shana Glickfield is the Dean of the DC Chapter of the Awesome Foundation. They give $1,000 grants to anyone with an awesome idea to make a beneficial difference to their community. Receiving between 30 to 70 applications each month, these go to production costs, supplies, and sometimes even paying the rent.

Andy Shallal of Busboys and Poets, and a recent mayoral campaign, was asked the inspiration for his restaurant/bookstore/arts venue cum community gathering space: “I am an artist. Creativity is in my, our souls, it’s what makes us human. Our role is to hearken the essence of dc, call the spirits from the ground through the arts and creative economy.”

Was an interesting point that we are one of only few countries with no Ministry of Culture. This thread of discussion continued, questions of who truly represents the arts community nationally, whether a federal czar or appointee was needed. Let’s restate that the members of the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities are excellent local advocates – and we are seeing some traction in adding the A to STEM.

Adam Zuckerman of Fosterly spoke of encouraging growth by enabling people to do, to make stuff. Art Whino and Swatchroom were given as examples of business and community working together to create and sustain new ideas and ways of thinking about arts industry.




Natalie Hopkinson is a writer currently at work on her third book on culture. She added to the qualitative vs quantitative measurement, stating that “arts are important, period” and lamented the loss Club U at Reeves Center, a gogo concert that celebrated culture.

That was it! We then broke for lunch and moved to a new building for The Arts Unconference, set for “crowdsourcing ideas and policy initiatives to inclusively move DC forward.”

  • I met William Taft, marshal of the Meridian Hill / Malcolm X Park drum circle for more than three decades. He shared his PSA for the Voting Rights Act, and charged us all with walking the talk.
  • Nelson Jacobsen shared Buying This, a new “like” for local purchasers. His non-profit also supports various community groups with online hosting:
  • Torie Partridge reminded me that the Atlantic Plumbing development from JBG Group was providing three artist studios and creative spaces, another example of how industry can support the arts. Her company Cherry Blossom Creative moves in soon.
  • Emily Arden added her knowledge from the Menkiti Group’s Mt. Rainier project, which includes 3,000 square feet of dedicated arts incubator space. Emily’s other project with Recreative Spaces hosts the (Up)Rising Festival this Memorial Day weekend, May 24.


By Patrick Cavanaugh