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D.C. leaders want arts spending to get tourists into neighborhoods

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer,Art,David Grosso

New York is known for the Empire State Building, Seattle for the Space Needle and D.C. for imposing monuments to long-dead leaders.

But as Mayor Vincent Gray plans to significantly increase the District's funding for the arts, local leaders are plotting art installations that might draw tourists off the National Mall and into undertrafficked neighborhoods.

At-Large Councilman David Grosso mused that D.C. needs a distinctive piece of art all its own. Just like Chicago has "The Bean" (officially titled Cloud Gate), a shiny, odd-looking, permanent fixture of Millennium Park that draws flocks of gaping onlookers, the District needs its own distinctive centerpiece, he reasons -- not another obelisk for a former president.

"Do something that is not a monument," Grosso said. "Get people to get off the Mall and to come into the neighborhoods."

The mayor's proposed budget sets aside $5 million in spending for building projects for each of the next six fiscal years. That's up from $2.7 million for the current fiscal year.

Jennifer Cover Payne, head of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington, said she saw the mayor's proposal as a great sign after years of "frugality."

"When there was an downturn in the economy, the arts downturned even more," she said. Now, she says, D.C. is ready for a "renaissance."

Installations and art studios have drawn foot traffic to neighborhoods like Brookland. Art installations at St. Elizabeths or Walter Reed could help revitalize other parts of the city.

Besides the new funding for big spending projects, the mayor has also called for a $15 million "One City Fund" that would support competitive grants for nonprofit organizations in a range of areas including the arts. That fund would be managed by the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region.

The mayor has also proposed $250,000 to develop a "Creative Economy Strategy" to better include arts projects in the city's economic development efforts.

"People think of the Mall as the place to go for artistic activities," said Lionell Thomas, executive director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. "The new strategy creates that whole vision -- the city is a vibrant and wonderful place."

City leaders hope an international art exhibition, in conjunction with the embassies in the city, could help put D.C. on the artistic map.

"I'm not an artist, but I am someone who appreciate the value that it adds to the city," Grosso said.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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