The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities spends nearly half of its $1.5 million budget to develop artists, and sometimes that means paying the rent or hiring baby-sitters as well as buying art materials.
"I used my money to pay for a baby-sitter so I could write a play," said Beth Baruch Joselow, who has three children aged 11, 7 and 3. Joselow, who received a $2,500 grant last fall from the arts commission, said, "It really paid off because my first play is being performed by the Horizon Theater in June . . . . I would never have been able to write it without that grant."
Subsidizing individuals is controversial for a city arts agency. Nineteen states and U.S. territories bar direct funding to individuals, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, a private group that monitors arts budgets nationwide.
About 5 percent of Maryland's arts budget and less than 2 percent of Virginia's arts budget go to individual artists.
This fiscal year -- October 1984 to September 1985 -- the D.C. Commission for the Arts and Humanities, located at 420 Seventh St. NW, is spending $630,000 on two programs that directly subsidize individual artists and art groups.
One program, grants-in-aid, funded nearly 50 arts organizations with grants of $1,000 to $15,000, and gave 49 individual artists grants of $2,500 each.
The grants are unrestricted and can be spent for any purpose. Recipients are required to report on how the money helped their artistic endeavors.
Bob Devlin, a composer and one-man-band street performer, received a $2,500 grant last fall. Devlin also received grants from the commission in 1982 and 1983.
"I was able to tape some of the music I wrote" with the grant money, Devlin said. He now sells the tapes to the public when he performs.
"I guess really that's what the grants are all about, making the arts more available to the people," Devlin concluded.
Assane Konte, a dancer who is a citizen of Senegal living in the District on a permanent visa, said his $2,500 grant allowed him to rent studio space at the downtown YWCA to hold African dance classes.
"It also is helping me to choreograph and buy costumes for my dance company, Kankourant West African Dancers," said Konte.
Grant recipient Elizabeth Benedict said her grant has paid for food and some other living expenses since January.
"I'm a freelance writer and I support myself writing . . . . The grant has been instrumental in my eating since January," said Benedict, noting that the grant was "helpful, but it doesn't provide a year's worth of living, unfortunately."
Benedict's first book, "Slow Dancing," was published in February. She decided not to apply for a grant this year because she hopes royalties from the book will support her next year. Benedict also received a grant from the commission in 1983.
When Margery Goldberg, who owns the Zenith Gallery in Northwest, found out in 1981 the commission was giving her a $1,000 grant to spend as she pleased, Goldberg said she was "really ungrateful."
"I immediately called them the commission up and said you know $1,000 does not a grant make, you can't do anything really with $1,000," Goldberg said.
Since then she has received two other grants from the commission. The latest, for $2,500, was awarded last fall and Goldberg says so far she has spent the money on art supplies.
"There's no better feeling in the world than free money," she said, "especially when it's from the local government, and I feel I've contributed a lot to the community and to the people who live here."
Getting a grant from the city also makes private fund-raising much easier, said Colette Yglesias, director and choreographer of the Colette Yglesias Dance Company. A city grant "legitimizes you in the eyes of the public so they don't think you're a fly-by-night organization," she explained.
Yglesias received grants from the commission in 1981 and last fall. She used the most recent grant to pay dancers and to hire "professional-level" costume, lighting and set designers.
But the public will have to pay $2 more to attend her dance company's performances this May. Yglesias said she had to raise ticket prices from $5 last year to $7 this year "because it's more expensive to put on concerts, nonprofit mail has gone up, also to keep pace with the other studios."
Yglesias said she would never have formed her dance company if she had not received the first grant in 1981.
["It the grant] was a great vote of confidence," she said. ". . . We live on such a survival basis, the second grant was desperately needed because the funding level is so dismal." CAPTION: Picture 1, Bob Devlin, one-man-band street performer, used part of his $2500 artists' grant to produce tapes of his original music; By John McDonnell -- The Washington Post; Picture 2, Dance teacher Assane Konte of Senegal leaps high in the studio his artist's grant allowed him to rent for his classrooms. By Charles K. Crockett for the Washington Post