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Where is DC arts funding going? Here's what we learned

Controversial re-appointments to the Arts Commission highlight inequities in art funds.

WASHINGTON — Critics are saying that money used to support arts programs in D.C. is unfairly distributed along racial lines. 

The accusation comes as controversy has consumed the D.C. arts community. Two prominent African American women were at risk of being kicked off the arts commission. 

So, we verified the data behind the accusation of redlining in D.C. Aarts.


Is D.C. arts funding being distributed equitably?

Our sources:

What We Learned:

Hopkinson, a journalist, Howard University Professor and Co-founder of the Don’t Mute D.C. movement teamed up with Dr. Suzanne Goodney Lea from the University of the District of Columbia. Together the professors analyzed the 2020 D.C. Arts funding and found what they describe as redlining.  A map of the city shows most of the money going to communities left of marked redline.

According to a corresponding graph, those communities also have more wealth and the most non-Hispanic white residents. To break it down further: Wards 1,2,3 and 6 received a combined 78.3% of the funding, while Wards 4,5,7 and 8 together got just about 21%.

“I am 100% a disrupter,” said Hopkinson. “Because it needed to be disrupted. All this money of our tax dollars was going out the door to support programs that everyone should have a right to. But a third of the funding already went to the wealthiest organizations in the city.”

According to Hopkinson, a good portion of the arts funding supports school programs. She said neighborhoods with the most children are getting the least money.  

So, let’s zero in on that data.  According to their analysis of the 2020 numbers, Wards 1, 2, 3 and 6 have about 42,000 children and received 78.3% of the funding. Wards 7 & 8 alone have just under 45,000 children and only 10.6% of the arts funding.

It is important to note these numbers are from 2020.  A complete data analysis of more recent art funding was not available.

“The majority of the funds that go into this $30 million pot of funding that goes out in D.C. comes from sales tax, explained Hopkinson.

“So sales tax is regressive. So, if you're a working-class person, you're paying more of your dollar that you earn in sales tax than a wealthy person,” she added.

“Recent changes in the equity priority in the commission has moved the commission in the right direction,” said At-Large Councilmember Robert White who credited Ms. Barry and Ms. Hopkinson for ushering in that change.

So that brings us to the controversy. 

Both Hopkinson who led this study and former D.C. first lady Cora Masters Barry were appointed by the Mayor to the Commission for the Arts and Humanities. But, Chairman Mendelson was trying to block a vote to extend their tenures because he said other members had complained the women were divisive and difficult.

Mayor Muriel Bowser posted her reaction to Twitter.

“I’m just going to say this for a lot of women who’ve been in a room with men who say really horrible things and say they are difficult or pushy because they want change. I’m grateful to Cora Barry and Natalie Hopkinson. So, one person is going to decide to block it instead of having all the councilmembers vote for it and the reason, 'she’s pushy?!'”

“I never said that,” Chairman Mendelson responded the next day reading a statement to the Council. “I never said that or that I don’t like Black women not true look at the record look at the nominees I’ve moved to the arts commission.”  

“It is disruptive but it’s good disruption because now people are going to have more opportunities and be more aware,” said Hopkinson.

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