The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities yesterday announced a record $326,837 in grants to artists and art organizations for the current fiscal year 1980. Sixty-six organizations will receive a total of $249,887, and 30 artists will be awarded a total of $76,950.
"I know everyone couldn't get everything they wanted," said Mayor Marion Barry, who joined Commission Executive Director Mildred Bautista and first Vice-Chair Heidi Berry at the District Building press conference.
"But we're making a great deal of progress," said Mayor Barry. "Last year we gave $195,250 to 59 organizations and 11 individual artists. This year it's a nice, healthy percentage-and-dollar increase over last year." The increase arose because the city for the first time was able to match its federal arts funding.
The individual grants are in smaller amounts than last year's, ranging from $250 for Spirits Known and Unknown Community Workshop (a media group) to $8,000 each to Workshops for Careers in the Arts and to the D.C. chapter of the National Conference of Artists. Workshops is the funding arm of the Ellington School of the Arts, one of whose founders is Peggy Cooper, the chairperson of the Commission.
Cooper said she participated in none of the discussions or voting on the Ellington application or on any other applications in that category.
Heidi Berry also announced that the Commission was hoping to start a "Friends of the Commission" organization "to obtain broad-based volunteer support to enhance the Commission's work." Berry said later that such a group would not be competitive with other similar groups serving the Kennedy Center, the National Symphony and other institutions.
"Some art groups us a committee process, some use other formats. We haven't decided yet," said Bautista. "But it's fair to think of such a committee as a group of resource people of a wide variety," who might recruit and provide volunteer labor and raise funds.
Bautista said the D.C. corporation counsel was studying how to set up such a committee: "There's always the possibility of setting up a separate tax entity."
"There is a large constituency of people eager to serve the commission," said Bautista. "A friends committee would be a mechanism for focusing their help."
Last night was the victory celebration. The Commission filled the clubby, wood-paneled Decatur House with Commission panelists (who had reviewed grant applications), Commission members, a few artists, a variety of musicians -- one after the other -- ranging from lutists to gospel singers, and much talk of the arts.
The party was to thank the panelists for their work.
But the real victory was, of course, that the Commission managed to make the grants and do it fairly, an accomplishment they savored last night. After all, less than a year ago, charges of conflict of interest caused the revamping of the Commission. And, to make matters worse, last spring their application for funding to the National Endowment for the Arts was turned down.
"It used to be if you said the District, people would shake their heads and say, 'ohhhh . . .'" said Mayor Marion Barry, who was praised by Cooper last night as a support "singular in this city" for the arts. "Our application to the Endowment was turned down, we weren't getting challenge grants. Now we've got a million in challenge grants and we got our NEA grant."