A FEW YEARS ago, a Massachusetts legislator referred to the arts as being a "frill and expendable." Although he later changed his public opinion, his statement amounted to a prophecy of the present administration's attitude toward public support for the arts.
It's an attitude that hurts the arts, not only in terms of real dollars but also in its ripple effect on private support, which the administration says it is trying to nurture. The importance and need for federal arts dollars has been argued eloquently in this column, and further debate on the subject, or reports such as the one offered by the President's Task Force, won't amount to much more than philosophical fodder. Faith healing only works for those who believe.
Rather than praying for dollars from heaven, the arts have begun to incorporate a bit of creative funding wizardry. Raffles, radiothons, auctions, lotteries, "fun runs" and benefits have all become byproducts of most cultural enterprises. Yet none of these funding schemes offers a panacea for the annual journey into the red. Even more creative methods must now be developed to help the arts cope with Reaganomics. Certainly, many new approaches have been tried.
In Massachusetts, an arts lottery was attempted. In Minnesota, a 5 percent club was developed among leading businesses to provide some direction and incentive for pre-tax corporate giving. "United Arts" funds have been established in cities such as St. Louis, Providence and Louisville, and matching gift programs for the arts have started to appear in towns with large industrial bases. To increase earnings, ventures such as half-price ticket booths have appeared in New York, Chicago, Boston and here in Washington (TICKETplace -- which opened last week at 12th and F streets NW).
Still, new and even more creative long-term funding programs need to be identified. One such effort is now being pursued by the Cultural Alliance (a non-profit corporation) which, if successful, could establish a national model for arts participation in private land development, and could mean millions of new dollars for the cultural community of greater Washington.
The alliance has become a limited partner with The Investment Development Group Corporation (TIGDC) and the Tyroc Construction Corporation to develop one of the last city-owned parcels of land open for development, a tract of land at the head of the 14th Street Bridge known as the Portal Site. Located at the terminus of the grand vista along Maryland Avenue, between the Capitol and the Jefferson Memorial, the Portal Site is an ideal spot for the subsidized theater and gallery space the alliance is proposing.
The alliance would manage a 250-seat performing arts space in the hotel and office complex, as well as a gallery space that would house the famous Barnett-Aden Collection of historical Afro-American paintings.
The proposal also makes the cultural community of greater Washington, through the Cultural Alliance, a beneficiary of a percentage of any and all revenues generated through the development of the site. In establishing an equity partnership with the Cultural Alliance, TIGDC's model addresses a number of substantial needs within the Washington arts community, while developing the potential for new and significant growth in the local cultural industry.
In addition, surplus revenues would enable the funding of outreach efforts for the arts in Washington. The alliance's participation amounts to a 1.5 percent share of revenue from the office space and parking, and a 1 percent share of hotel revenues. In 1986 that would represent $250,000, and by 1990 it would exceed $1 million annually.
Whether or not the proposal is the one selected by the Redevelopment Land Agency, it represents a significant model for new business-arts partnerships. It is a remarkable example of how the cultural lobby can well serve business, which in turn can provide constant new income for the arts.
The proposal's creativity is a definitive response to the challenge posed by the Reagan administration. It shows that even if some individuals view the arts to be expendable, others are willing to risk a great deal in building a new arts support framework for the future.