D.C. City Councilman John Wilson yesterday angrily walked out of a council committee hearing on funding for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. At the morning meeting, he had argued against a requested increase in funding for what he called an "elitist" agency.
"I want to make sure there's enough money to fund poor and disadvantaged people," Wilson said later.
"There's a lot of difference between telling a person he's not going to have a place to live and telling a person he can't paint a mural. It's a question of whether a person can eat and have heat for his house. I know if someone wants to paint, someone will give him some paint."
Wilson's pronouncement -- which startled some council members and observers -- was the lone voice of dissent at what council member Polly Shackleton called an "excellent hearing" with across-the-board support for the Arts Commission's fiscal 1981 funding.
Council chairman Arrington Dixon unexpectedly arrived at the hearing shortly after Wilson walked out -- summoned by his concerned staff members, according to one observer -- to reassure the audience that he supported the arts and would push for the Commission's funding.
The five-member Human Resources Committee, which convened the budget hearing, will vote among themselves on recommendations to report to the full council later, according to Shackleton.
Wilson admitted later he might capitulate and vote for the Commission funding increase of about $140,000 for fiscal 1981. "I'm not trying to stifle the growth of the arts," said Wilson, whose Ward Two includes Arena stage, Zenith Gallery, Miya Gallery and the Lansburg arts complex. "I'm talking about priorities, and I also think the funding nature of the Commission is elitist.
"I just don't think the money is being evenly distributed. There are little groups that need it -- like the Immaculate Comception Dance Company, a lot of volunteers working in a ghetto. They've had a terrible time getting money."
Peggy Cooper, chair of the Arts Commission, commented, "I don't think John really thinks we're elitist. 'Sign of the Times' (an arts training program) in Northeast gets commission funding. The significant majority of students at the Ellington School (which gets some funding) come from the poorest pockets of the city. The arts groups in Lansburgh are every color of the rainbow.