More than a year after hearing the public’s input on a draft, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office released the first-ever D.C. Cultural Plan last week.

It’s an interagency effort led by the D.C. Office of Planning with collaboration from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the D.C. Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment. The 224-page document delves into the history of D.C.’s creative class and presents a framework for growing and promoting the city’s cultural and creative communities.

But the plan has not been without controversy. Some local artists say that the plan doesn’t reflect the daily, real-world challenges faced by D.C.’s creative community and does not prioritize their most pressing needs.

We heard from the city officials tasked with implementing the plan and the artists it’s meant to serve.

The music you heard on today’s show included:

Gurty Beats – “Spilled Beans”
DJ Cam Quartet – “Saint Germain”

Produced by Monna Kashfi

Guests

  • Peter Nesbett Executive Director, Washington Project for the Arts; @wpadc
  • Mikaela Lefrak WAMU Arts and Culture Reporter; @mikafrak
  • Andrew Trueblood Interim Director, D.C. Office of Planning; @OPinDC
  • Terrie Rouse-Rosario Executive Director, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities; @TheDCArts

Transcript

  • 12:22:12

    KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. Five years in the making, Mayor Bowser's office released the first-ever DC cultural plan last week, an interagency effort led by the DC Office of Planning, with collaboration from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment. The more than 200-page document outlines a framework for growing and promoting the city's cultural and creative sectors, but the plan has not been without controversy. Some local artists say that the plan is not reflective of the real world challenges faced by DC's creative community on a daily basis, and does not prioritize their more pressing needs.

  • 12:22:48

    KOJO NNAMDIJoining me today to discuss the cultural plan and what it means for the District's creators are first Mikaela Lefrak, WAMU arts and cultural reporter. Mikaela, good to see you again.

  • 12:22:57

    MIKAELA LEFRAKHey, Kojo.

  • 12:22:59

    NNAMDIBefore we go onto the cultural plan, got to ask you about a new story that has set DC's social media on fire since Sunday: the go-go music at Metro PCS store in Shaw going silent. I lived in that neighborhood for 20 years, a block-and-a-half away. Yes, so we're used to that sound. What happened? Why is this story taking the city by storm?

  • 12:23:21

    LEFRAKRight. So, as you know, there is a Metro PCS store at Florida Avenue and 7th and Shaw, and it opened in 1995. And since then, it has been blaring go-go music from speakers outside to draw people in, and also just sort of pay tribute to the neighborhood's heritage as a center of black culture and music, from jazz to go-go. And recently, the owner was asked to move his speakers inside. T-Mobile, which owns Metro PCS, ordered him to, because they said they're being threatened with a lawsuit from a resident in one of the luxury condo buildings that sprouted up there recently.

  • 12:23:59

    LEFRAKThey say that the noise is too loud. It's bothering them. And that's really led to this huge backlash from folks who say that, you know, the city is gentrified, and it's changing too much. It's ignoring the history and culture of the people who used to live in that neighborhood. And people are really upset. They're rallying around this store and its music.

  • 12:24:20

    NNAMDIDo you know if there's anything the city's planning to do to intervene, at this point?

  • 12:24:23

    LEFRAKSo, there's a lot going on. My colleague Rachel Kurzius at DCist has been down there for the past couple of days as these rallies and protests start bubbling up. The past two nights, people have gathered both outside the store and the 14th and U intersection to play go-go music. There's been people blaring it from their speakers, and there's been a band playing. There's going to be a photoshoot down there on Saturday. And the city is -- you know, they're weighing in. Mayor Bowser tweeted yesterday in support of the hashtag #dontmuteDC. And Councilmember Brianne Nadeau wrote a letter to T-Mobile defending the music. And other councilmembers have been speaking up.

  • 12:25:09

    NNAMDIWell, also joining us in studio is Terrie Rouse-Rosario. She's the executive director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which makes you an expert on culture. How do you respond to this incident?

  • 12:25:22

    TERRIE ROUSE-ROSARIOYou know, how would I respond to this? You know what I've seen in my travels around the world, is eventually, when dynamics like this present themselves, at some point, there's something called compromise. And compromise begins to look at, oh, there was the way we used to do it, and there's other issues. And at some point, there is that voice of reason that comes together: why don't we figure out how to come to a compromise? So, that's what I'm hoping for.

  • 12:25:50

    LEFRAKWell, actually, the CEO of T-Mobile just tweeted today that, quote, "Our dealer will work with the neighbors to compromise on volume." I'm not sure what that compromise could look like right now. People are pretty fired up, but hopefully it happens.

  • 12:26:03

    NNAMDIWell, Peter Nesbett is also with us. He's executive director of the Washington Project for the Arts and a member of the steering committee for Arts Action DC, which also makes you an expert on culture. (laugh) What do you think about this?

  • 12:26:17

    PETER NESBETTI actually think -- I have great respect for that site. It's a living monument to a great cultural product from DC. And I would hate to see it change. I think it needs to be loud and it needs to be present in order for it to have the ongoing impact and presence that it's had for, now, several decades.

  • 12:26:40

    NNAMDIWell, we'll be doing a show about this tomorrow, so you can tune in for that. So, for the time being, Mikaela, we can get back to the aforementioned cultural plan.

  • 12:26:51

    LEFRAKLet's do it.

  • 12:26:51

    NNAMDIFor many people who haven't been following its development, what is the DC cultural plan, and what does it aim to do? Give us a brief summary.

  • 12:26:58

    LEFRAKSure. So, as you mentioned at the top of the show, this cultural plan has been years in the making. It's the first-ever plan of its kind for the city, and it does two main things. It outlines the city's creative economy. So, it measures how many artists and arts organizations are here, and what they're doing, what spheres they're working in. And then it also proposes recommendations to support them through policy, through funding, through new partnerships, etcetera.

  • 12:27:25

    LEFRAKAnd it's also really important to know that other cities have these plans, too. This isn't just a DC idea. For example, Chicago put one out a few years ago. Pittsburgh has a cultural heritage plan. And New York put out a massive plan a few years ago, too.

  • 12:27:40

    NNAMDIWhat does the DC cultural plan identify as the main challenge facing DC's creative sector right now, and what solutions does it lay out?

  • 12:27:48

    LEFRAKSure. So, there's a lot, and it's 224 pages. It's a tome. So, bravo to you guys for putting that together. I would say the main thing that comes out again and again is affordability, affordability of housing for artists and of rental space for galleries, for different cultural organizations and nonprofits to have their offices in. The plan says that artists spend 39 percent of their income on rent, which is much more than a lot of other people in different industries in this city are spending. So, that's obviously a major issue. And the plan lays out a couple different ways that the city is going to try to address that.

  • 12:28:31

    LEFRAKQuickly, two other things that jumped out at me: permitting for public spaces and how artists can use public spaces for events, for festivals, for performances. That's also a major theme that comes out in this cultural plan. And then also how to preserve culture, particularly black culture, which is quite interesting right now, considering what we're talking about with Metro PCS.

  • 12:28:55

    NNAMDIExactly right. Also joining us in studio is Andrew Trueblood. He is the director of the DC Office of Planning. Andrew Trueblood, welcome.

  • 12:29:03

    ANDREW TRUEBLOODThank you.

  • 12:29:03

    NNAMDIYour office led the development of the plan. Tell us about the process and how you settled on the findings and recommendations that made it into this final version.

  • 12:29:13

    TRUEBLOODWell, as you mentioned in the introduction, this was a plan that was actually a few years in the making, and involved a great deal of collaboration, not only across the government with the agencies that you mentioned, but also with engagement with the artist community. As well as, what Mikaela mentioned, is through the process, we identified there are actually even more governmental agencies that we think are cultural stakeholders, including Department of Transportation and the Department of Parks and Rec, who, even at the beginning of the process, maybe we weren't thinking about.

  • 12:29:44

    TRUEBLOODSo, it was a long process to put together a draft plan, which we reached out, we heard from over 1,500 residents and released a draft plan about a year ago, a little over a year ago, and got a great deal of comments in response to that, and took those to heart and put that together to release this plan.

  • 12:30:05

    NNAMDIYou said you got a great deal of comments. Who did you hear from, and what were the main concerns raised by that community?

  • 12:30:10

    TRUEBLOODSo, we heard from basically every artistic and cultural community in terms of visual artists, performing artists, cultural creators and makers. And I think as Mikaela referenced earlier, I think the biggest pain point that we heard loud and clear is affordability, affordability of spaces, affordability of housing. It's something that we hear -- that I hear in my job across sectors. And it's something that we heard and really tried to address in this plan.

  • 12:30:41

    NNAMDIHow have those concerns been addressed in this final version of the cultural plan?

  • 12:30:45

    TRUEBLOODThere are a few ways that they're addressed. So, number one, I think it's important to say that the plan does look at what existing spaces there are, what has been successful in the past. For example, in Brookland, we did a small area plan that included the requirement to create cultural spaces. So, it looks a little bit at the past, to look forward and creating really a framework for thinking about space moving forward.

  • 12:31:12

    TRUEBLOODAnd it puts, I think, the seeds together for some of the things that the mayor's budget funds in this fiscal year, including a cultural facility's leverage fund, that is a $5 million fund that seeks to leverage three times that amount, a private fund to help the artists and organizations fund their facilities. Also included in the mayor's budget is a tax refund for artistic and cultural organizations -- or performing arts organizations to help address the growing issue around higher taxes.

  • 12:31:47

    NNAMDITerrie Rouse-Rosario, the Commission on Arts and Humanities is taking the lead on implementing the recommendations of the plan, and that is no small task. What are the most important next steps for you?

  • 12:31:59

    ROUSE-ROSARIOThe most important next step for us is figuring out how we're going to do this over the next few years and building on this. In fiscal year '18, we gave out 728 grants, about $26 million. Now we'll have an entire other level of activity to begin to implement an FY 20 that builds on -- if you want to use the word -- the tradition of the Commission on Arts and Humanities in providing grants to organizations, individuals, as well as festivals and events.

  • 12:32:31

    ROUSE-ROSARIONow we'll have other tools to add to the creative economies, kind of our toolbox of activities, not only individual grants. It's the idea of having perhaps revolving funds for those midsize organizations or small organizations that need money towards projects. And they need it as a loan or gap funds, or other options. So, now that's another tool. So, now we've got a grant. We've got that.

  • 12:32:56

    ROUSE-ROSARIOThis issue of money for security for festivals, insurance and security is a major issue when you are gathering people to participate in creative economy, be it a festival, an event, you know, whatever that is. So, having the city pay attention to the fact that perhaps in order to do these wonderful events, we need to help make sure they happen by assuring the security and the ability to do that says that people paid attention when they were doing the cultural plan to the true needs of the community. That's what's remarkable. There are 1,500 people who got through, that I need to do something and I need insurance to be able to do it. So, they're paid attention.

  • 12:33:39

    ROUSE-ROSARIOSo, for us, we have to gear up with staff. We have to do training. We have to keep our expectations of success in line, because when you're starting something new, it's going to take more than a year to get it off the ground. It's going to take more than a year to be able to have the checks and balances. So, as we begin to go through the second and third year of this plan, we will be able to say we have success in these areas. So, it's really kind of calming everybody down a little bit and say, let's look at what the options are.

  • 12:34:10

    NNAMDIAndrew Trueblood, the plan calls for the Office of Planning to hire an arts and culture planner to help with the implementation of the cultural plan. What will this person be responsible for, and why are they reporting to you, rather than to Terrie?

  • 12:34:25

    TRUEBLOODWell, that is actually a great question, and it's part of -- it's funded by the mayor's -- in the mayor's FY20 budget, is a fulltime employee to help implement this plan. The way that we landed with Director Rouse-Rosario and me is that it would actually -- it's in the Commission of Arts and Humanities' budget. And it'll be a shared resource between the two of us as the Office of Planning hands off this work to the commission. And the idea is that we have, through this effort, gained a lot of information and knowledge about implementation that we can share with the commission as they think through these new tools that they'll be implementing.

  • 12:35:07

    NNAMDITerrie Rouse-Rosario, Mayor Bowser's 2020 budget earmarks $8.4 million for the cultural plan. Most of that money will go towards two funds: $5 million for a cultural facilities fund and $2 million for an innovation and entrepreneurship revolving loan fund. Tell us about how these funds will work and what kinds of thing they will pay for.

  • 12:35:28

    ROUSE-ROSARIOWell, I'm going to give you a broad view of them. These are the types of funds which are leverage funds. If there's $5 million in a fund, the entity that will end up managing it, which is a financial institution, will have to have a three-to-one match. So, that'll end up being $20 million, which will be available to the cultural world to be able to seek loans for projects and that sort of thing. We will work first to find an entity that wants to do that, and second, we will be putting in place the instruments of how the amounts of those loans, how they'll be accounted for in a variety of other pieces that will go into this process.

  • 12:36:10

    ROUSE-ROSARIOThe smaller amount of money, the $2 million, is actually designed -- and I think this is the one that is exciting to me, because it's a slightly different type of balance, will end up being $6 million. But it'll be available to individuals and entrepreneurs. Again, the cultural fund heard very clearly that sometimes, it is individuals and startup people who don't have access to credit and don't have access to funds. And this provides an opportunity for the city to be the backer for their efforts. And, hopefully, that will allow them to also go out and get additional funds. So, those are the exciting pieces.

  • 12:36:49

    ROUSE-ROSARIOAll of the details will be worked through as we go through the next year, getting the components together. With the effort with my partner here in crime, whom I like to call Director Trueblood, we will figure all of these components out. So, we will be reasonably successful with this in the next few years. What's good about this also is the amount of money in these funds simply goes up and up and up every year, as long as people are returning their money on the loans, and we don't necessarily have to ask for the money every year. But it is a work in progress, but is an opportunity which I think will be unique, in some cases. And also, it's building on the experience that the District already has with housing using a similar type of fund.

  • 12:37:38

    NNAMDIWell, we got an email from Sarah Greenbaum from Dance Place. Arts Action DC has been in favor of the cultural plan for many years, but it was our expectation that funding for the plan would come from additional sources outside the commission, not take away existing funds. I'd like to clarify. Terrie Rouse-Rosario, these are not new funds that the city is dedicating to the cultural plan, correct? They're being redirected from other grant programs that your office currently manages.

  • 12:38:07

    ROUSE-ROSARIOWell, actually our budget for fiscal year '20 is higher than it has been ever, actually. And the money isn't being redirected. We gave out $25 million. We will give out another $25 million. We are simply using what was in the budget in a different sort of way. So, that is truly the advantage of what we're seeing in this particular budget format.

  • 12:38:37

    NNAMDII was about to say, speaking of Arts Action DC, we introduced earlier, Peter Nesbett. He's executive director of the Washington Project for the Arts and a member of the steering committee for Arts Action DC. Peter, Washington Project for the Arts is one of the leading artist and advocacy organizations in this region. You and your team, as well as another group you cofounded, Keep Artists in DC, were very involved in the public comment period when the draft of the cultural plan was released last year. What was the input you provided at that time?

  • 12:39:06

    NESBETTWell, the main thing we wanted to see was artists playing a more central role in the development of the plan. We felt that artists -- and we'd been hearing from artists, that they'd been marginalized from the process and their voices weren't heard. We also felt that the Commission on the Arts and Humanities wasn't playing the central role that it should, because that's where the arts expertise in the city lies, and the project was being run by the Office of Planning. And the actual cultural plan, as we knew it at the time, was being written by an outside consulting firm that was a real estate development and economic development firm. So, again, I just felt -- and we all felt at the time that there was a serious lack of arts expertise.

  • 12:39:46

    NNAMDIWere your concerns addressed in the final version of the plan that was released last week?

  • 12:39:50

    NESBETTNot at all. I feel like there were very few major changes. There were a number of surprises. One of those surprises, as you noted earlier, was the fact that there was no new funds being put forth to fund some of the recommendations. But I still feel like the plan, as a whole, lacks any real vision. I feel like there's a tremendous opportunity right now and a tremendous responsibility that we have to invest in culture in this city in new and big ways. And I feel like the plan actually takes a step back, unfortunately.

  • 12:40:22

    NNAMDIIn what ways does the plan not meet the needs of DC's creative community?

  • 12:40:27

    NESBETTWell, for one, I think it misrepresents and misunderstands what artists and small arts organization truly need. It thinks of artists in terms of through the metrics -- you know, through the perspective of artists as small business entrepreneurs, and it tries to provide technical assistance and business trading to artists to try to make them more successful. That doesn't bring and doesn't make better artists. Investing in artistic practice does.

  • 12:40:57

    NESBETTAnd what's going to keep artists in the city -- as we all know that artists are leaving the city and have been leaving it for some time, because of this high cost of living that we've been talking about -- what's going to keep artists here is valuing their expertise and investing in their practice.

  • 12:41:12

    NNAMDIIs that your biggest disappointment with the plan?

  • 12:41:15

    NESBETTWell, probably my biggest, is that. I think you have to step back though and look at the plan in terms of a much larger strategy that's playing out in the current administration, which there's an attempt right now to -- in the mayor's budget, she's proposing that the dedicated funding to the DC's Commission of the Arts and Humanities be undone. Which Arts Action DC worked very, very hard with the city council to have that implemented last year. So, having that undone doesn't show a tremendous amount of faith in ongoing support for the arts in the city.

  • 12:41:51

    NNAMDIYou've also expressed concerns about the loans that the plan envisions for artists and creators. Why are the loans problematic?

  • 12:41:59

    NESBETTWell, first off, small loans that might be available to artists is a problem, because most artists are so broke to begin with. I mean, they already have 50, 100, $150,000 worth of loans coming out of school. They cannot handle repayment on future loans, nor do they need it. The best investment in artists at this point is through the grant programs that the Commission on the Arts and Humanities already provides.

  • 12:42:22

    NESBETTAnd I'm a huge supporter of DCCH. They've made a huge difference in this city. Hopefully, they will continue to do so, but I think those grant programs -- the artist fellowships are rare. Very few cities in our country make direct grants to artists, which is a tremendous show of respect. But I don't feel like that same degree of respect is represented in the plan.

  • 12:42:46

    NNAMDIBut with an increasing number of artists using the digital environments to more effectively market their art, it seems to me that this whole program about loans is in order to be able to help them to affect that. You seem to be suggesting that, no, artists don't need any help marketing. They just need your money.

  • 12:43:07

    NESBETTI'm not sure that the loan program, as I understand it, is being set aside strictly for marketing. My understanding of that is it might be for short term needs, sort of like the big capital loans are, sort of, Terrie's described them, as bridge loans. Same idea. If you're going to put together a show or you've got an event coming up and you need to do some -- you have some out-of-pocket expenses, this will tide you over. And then you'll have a show, you'll sell out, and you'll be able to pay it back. But, unfortunately, we don't have enough of a robust commercial arts economy here that's going to guarantee that that kind of money's going to come back to artists. And there's the great risk they're just going to end up deeper in debt.

  • 12:43:44

    NNAMDIDo you see any positives in this plan at all?

  • 12:43:47

    NESBETTWell, I appreciate the fact that the plan is trying to be highly collaborative. It's also a concern that it's so collaborative among agencies, because I feel like, to some degree, it diffuses any accountability as it's implemented. But the fact that -- collaboration is a great thing. When we work with people that have different life experiences, we see things differently. And I think that that's one of the few positive things I see in it.

  • 12:44:17

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. Hold all of your thoughts. We'll be coming back to hear your responses to what Peter Nesbett just said. Mike emails: artists need workspace. An artist without studio space is a former artist. Timeshare is sufficient. District government once recognized us but dropped the ball. Artists, like other working people in DC, need affordable housing. But singling them out for housing preferences is obscene. In practice, developers require higher incomes than most artists make. So, this further privileges the trust fund baby artists. We'll see about that when we come back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:45:35

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on DC's cultural plan. I'd like to start with the phones. Here is Lissa in Washington, DC. Lissa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:45:45

    LISSAOh, thanks, Kojo. Good afternoon. I'm Lissa Rosenthal-Yoffe. I am the director of the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative. And actually, I just came from the Wilson Building today where Arts Action DC is participating in our Arts Advocacy Week and meeting with councilmembers. Question for Director Route-Rosario. We are encouraged that the cultural plan has finally been released. And as you know from testimony just last Friday before the budget hearing, we do have a lot of questions as a community. And Peter has addressed some of those on this program, as well.

  • 12:46:22

    LISSAOne of the solutions that the arts education community sees is actually an education campaign, and we would love to have an opportunity to talk with you and the Office of Planning, perhaps some town hall meetings about unpacking this budget moving forward and how we all actually can work together. And I'll leave that for Director Rouse-Rosario to respond. Thank you.

  • 12:46:45

    NNAMDIHere she is.

  • 12:46:46

    ROUSE-ROSARIOThank you. You know, I'm a big believer in having dialogue. You know, whether or not it's a town hall or we sit around a conference room and have a conversation, it's important. And also, there is the city's educators and educators across the city who really should be part of that conversation, as well. Because we can't do any of this by ourselves, and advocating by ourselves isn't helpful, but it is something we need to do. I'm a believer in this. This is how I spent 40 years of my life, in the importance of art education and impacting in people's lives in small ways and big ways.

  • 12:47:29

    NNAMDII'd like some clarification on this, Andrew Trueblood. What about property owners and developers? What does the cultural plan outline as their role in growing and promoting the arts in D.C.?

  • 12:47:40

    TRUEBLOODAs part of the cultural plan, we do look at some examples of experiences in the past, where art spaces were created through some of our processes, like our planned unit development process. And, as I mentioned earlier, Brookland and some of the spaces that are created in that area are a great example of that. I think it looks to how we can use our tools to make sure that we create affordable cultural spaces moving forward, whether we look at land dispositions or whether we -- selling DC land, or whether we look at some of the zoning. So, those are incredibly important tools. Just as we use those in certain cases for affordable housing, we can also use it for space.

  • 12:48:21

    NNAMDIMikaela, you've been talking to local artists and leaders in the creative sector since the plan was released. What are some of the reactions you've heard so far?

  • 12:48:28

    LEFRAKSure. So, like Peter brought up, the thing that I keep hearing again and again is a real hesitancy and kind of confusion about the loan programs. I was speaking to Mark Chalfant, who's the executive director of Washington Improv Theater, and he said to me, quote "Ain't nobody asking for a loan." I think it's this sense that if your house is being foreclosed on, you're not looking for a loan for your business. You're looking for a roof over your head.

  • 12:48:56

    LEFRAKI think a lot of folks are also worried about the timelines of all of these different goals. I think even if they agree with the goals -- for example, the cultural facilities fund is listed as one of the long-term goals. And, you know, people are saying we needed these yesterday. We need these tax incentives right now. And, you know, there's a lot of city agencies that are going to be working on implementing this plan. And what I'm hearing from cultural leaders is that they're glad that all these city agencies are bought in, but they're nervous that that is going to slow the timeline down even further.

  • 12:49:36

    NNAMDIIndeed, Andrew Trueblood, the plan focuses a great deal on the use of public spaces in the city for art and how that can be improved. We've heard from many artists and creative producers who say that the permitting process that the city has in place right now for the use of public spaces is a nightmare, like a lot of the bureaucracy you hear about in the city. What solutions does the plan provide for that?

  • 12:49:59

    TRUEBLOODThat is a great question, and something that we hear a lot, which is the challenges that are faced. Not only, I will say, you know, the city has a permitting process but also national park service, federal agencies are involved, as well. In fact, along with this effort we partnered with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and Gensler to create a public space activation guide that can help organizations and cultural creators navigate all of the complexities of permitting public space. And it has both a flow chart to show who to talk to, as well as some worksheets.

  • 12:50:33

    TRUEBLOODSo, that's a critical piece, I think, in the plan. It talks about all infrastructure is a stage, and I think that's something that we discovered through this effort, the idea that roads can be places for not only, you know, moving around, but also the funk parade. And our rec centers and our schools and our libraries are critical stewards of culture in our city, and we should recognize that and really raise that up.

  • 12:50:59

    NNAMDIIcan Tweets: what will it take to show an example of how the cultural plan can be implemented in real time, not in two to four years? Blind Whino and other organizations need true support without the grant process of panels, because those monies only go to larger, more sound organizations. I'd like to hear you comment on that, Peter Nesbett.

  • 12:51:19

    NESBETTWell, actually, I don't think that that's entirely true about the grant monies only going to larger organizations. But any grant process is obviously a complicated process. But individual practitioners and small organizations have been quite successful through the grant program at the commission.

  • 12:51:39

    NNAMDIAnd Terrie Rouse-Rosario, how will the grant process change or be speeded up?

  • 12:51:43

    ROUSE-ROSARIOAh, speeded up, oh. (laugh) A concept I can't imagine. It is a competitive process, and in order for it to be competitive, we have to sit panels, and pull those panels together, and they vote on things. People have been coming in for panels right now. Volunteers sit around the table, and they have spent, oh, I'd say about 40 hours reading through 26, 30 grant proposals. And they come and discuss them all day. But that's to make sure that it is a transparent process, that it's a competitive process.

  • 12:52:17

    ROUSE-ROSARIOAnd I am very sympathetic, because I've sat on all sides of a table of the funding. I know it seems like people are deliberately making things take longer, but I think what we're really trying to do is to make sure, in many cases, that it's fair, that we've done our job properly, that we're assessing projects well. And that's what arts professionals do and grant-making professionals do, and we want to do it well. And that's something that I believe in.

  • 12:52:43

    NNAMDII know this borders on Politics Hour territory, but I've got to ask about the rumored changes for your agency. Last week, the DC Council shifted oversight of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities to the Committee of the Whole. And the mayor's 2020 budget eliminates the dedicated funding source for the commission that was enacted last year. There's also talk that the mayor's office plans to reintroduce legislation that would turn the commission into a new Department of Arts and Humanities under the mayor's purview, that would also expand the scope of the department to include cosmetology and the culinary arts. How likely is that to happen, and how would that impact your office's oversight of implementing the cultural plan?

  • 12:53:21

    ROUSE-ROSARIOYou've just asked my favorite question.

  • 12:53:23

    NNAMDIOh, I'm sorry. (laugh)

  • 12:53:25

    ROUSE-ROSARIOThe Commission on Arts and Humanities is an agency of city government. So, thus, we are a department, and have always been a department of government. We report through the deputy for development, up to the mayor. That is the biggest misnomer that we've been dealing with for however long. So, that doesn't make -- that's not a change. What we are trying to do, as an agency, is be more active in the process of having people know what we are doing.

  • 12:53:57

    ROUSE-ROSARIOSo, any legislation, if it is proposed again, is just set to clear the ambiguities of who we are in the city government. So, again, it's my favorite question, and I'm glad you asked me, so we can continue to try to get the information out there appropriately.

  • 12:54:15

    NNAMDIPeter Nesbett, Roger emails: no government should ever be involved in picking winners and losers, particularly in a subjective area such as arts and culture. What say you?

  • 12:54:25

    NESBETTWell, I don't think the government is picking winners and losers when it's going through a panel process. I think arts experts and practicing artists and people that have worked in the arts for years are the ones that are actually making those decisions. The government is actually enabling that process to happen in funding it. So, you know, I am a big proponent for increased government support for the arts across the board. We're facing, you know, the inevitable conversation again about the defunding of the NEA and the NEH. And I see this all within that context.

  • 12:54:56

    NESBETTI do want to say quickly, Terrie had mentioned that this isn't a big change, this proposed legislation. And I think that it is a huge change. The commissioners are one of the most valuable assets at the Arts Commission. They are the ties to the community and they also have arts expertise that they bring with them. And this proposed legislation actually turns them into less frequent advisors with no real official standing...

  • 12:55:23

    NNAMDI(overlapping) So, you think if these changes do take place, it will have a negative impact, ultimately, on DC's arts community?

  • 12:55:29

    NESBETTI do, and I think...

  • 12:55:30

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Put you in a worse situation than you are now?

  • 12:55:33

    NESBETTI think so. I'm a little worried about it. I mean, given last year that we faced this situation where there was an amendment that was made that came -- we don't know -- I don’t know specifically where it came from. It was written, my understanding is, within the Commission of the Arts and Humanities. But it didn't seem to reflect any of the expertise that lies within the commission. And I know the commissioners were not consulted on it, but it was, you know, an attempt, basically, just to ask artists to self-censor their work.

  • 12:55:58

    NESBETTAnd it was, you know, basically an unconstitutional affront on artists' basic freedoms, and it was quickly and smartly overturned. If that pressure came down from the mayor's office because they didn't want to deal with controversy, and yet we're bringing the arts organization more closely without the independent oversight of the commissioners into the mayor's house, I'm worried.

  • 12:56:21

    NNAMDIAndrew Trueblood, in about the minute we have left, another highlight of the cultural plan is the call for the District to increase its partnerships with federal cultural organizations that call DC home, like the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian. What will that look like, and how is it going to be achieved? Thirty seconds.

  • 12:56:36

    TRUEBLOODWell, that is actually something, when we were in the community with you, we heard from Kennedy Center, who is, I think, realizing -- and Smithsonian, as well -- realizing the importance of the connection to local DC. They are a national institution, sure, but they understand that they're in the city, and that our -- we have a rich arts and cultural heritage within our city. And we are seeing more and more partnerships and support of our organizations, including on some of the space issues that we talked about earlier.

  • 12:57:02

    NNAMDIAndrew Trueblood, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:57:03

    TRUEBLOODThank you.

  • 12:57:04

    NNAMDITerrie Rouse-Rosario, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:57:06

    ROUSE-ROSARIOThank you.

  • 12:57:07

    NNAMDIPeter Nesbett, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:57:10

    NNAMDIThank you, Kojo.

  • 12:57:10

    NNAMDIMikaela Lefrak, I'll see you outside. (laugh)

  • 12:57:12

    LEFRAKSee you later. Thanks, Kojo.

  • 12:57:13

    NNAMDIToday's show on DC's cultural plan was produced by Monna Kashfi. Our show on the Tidal Base was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up tomorrow, turn it up or turn it off. We dive into the neighborhood debate over go-go music in Shaw, the latest battlefront in the District's struggle against gentrification. Plus, we explore the local landscape for youth poetry. That all starts tomorrow at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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