"We've all been winging it," said Michelle Ava, founder of Ava/Teri Dancetheater, backstage after her performance at last night's "Bravo, Barry!" fund-raiser at the Hyatt Regency. "But in the arts you've got to be quick, resourceful and ready for anything."
There were some technical problems, but the show went on, and about 1,000 friends and supporters of Mayor Marion Barry each paid $10 to gather in the Regency ballroom for a celebration of the mayor's contributions to the arts in Washington. The fund-raiser was the last major organized event of the Barry campaign before Tuesday's primary. Barry "wanted to throw an affordable, good-time party for the arts people who helped him get in the first time," said Shelley Clark, who organized the evening.
"I can't think of any city that has come so far in supporting the arts," said master of ceremonies Patrick Hayes, president emeritus of the Washington Performing Arts Society.
While the crowd precariously balanced wine glasses and plates loaded with tacos from the self-service taco bar, Hayes introduced the roster of performing groups including avant-garde singer Casse Culver (who drove home to Seven Corners to fetch her own sound system when the donated equipment failed to arrive), the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, the Rosewood Chamber Consort and other small arts organizations.
"I'm an old-timer in the city," said Tina Lowe Rips. "I think Barry's been quite good with the arts. I heard him speak at the African Art Museum. He said he didn't know too much about art, but he sure seems interested."
Some of the artists painted a less rosy picture of Barry's administration. "We've been trying to get a grant and it just hasn't happened," said Elaine Stephanides, an Ava/Teri dancer. "There's no question the city can do more -- the smaller arts groups here are being obliterated."
Barry himself, although he did not arrive until about two hours after the program had begun, took the stage like a trouper. While he bearhugged Hayes, his standing ovation rang with cries of "Four more years!" and "Bravo!"
"I remember when I took office," Barry said. "The art budget was just $167,000. Then last year our arts commission's budget was $1.5 million." Barry promised the crowd, "You're gonna see a lot more," and boasted, as he often does, that Washington would soon overtake New York City as "the art capital of the world."
Barry's remarks were interpreted for the deaf by Robert Hahn.
"I think what Barry has done is create an idea that arts belong here," said Michelle Ava. "But it's still an idea. Awareness has grown and, yes, the audiences are growing -- the money isn't there, but that's not his fault."