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Mayor's proposal cuts millions from Arts and Humanities Commission budget

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer,Vincent Gray,David Grosso,Jack Evans

As Mayor Vincent Gray's administration officials drafted this year's D.C. budget proposal, facing beefed up revenues from a growing tax base and an improving economy, they left the Arts and Humanities Commission off their list of top priorities, slashing the proposed budget in half.

For the current fiscal year, the Arts and Humanities Commission received $14.4 million, after some wrangling by Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans turned up one-time money by refinancing some of the city's debt.

The mayor has now proposed spending $7 million for the commission for the coming 2014 fiscal year, compared with the $5 million that was budgeted for fiscal year 2012.

Arts advocates hope that the council can somehow find the money again in order to maintain current funding levels for the arts.

"Jack Evans is working to find new funding," said Jennifer Cover Payne, head of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington.

Evans said he would like to get arts funding back up to $14 million, if not $20 million, for the coming fiscal year. But he declined to say where he might want to get the money.

At-large Councilman David Grosso said he would support Evans' efforts to increase arts funding.

"We're going to be looking for it all over the place," he said.

A spokeswoman for Gray's office said the mayor's budget proposal for the arts would increase spending for construction and other large tangible expenses. She also said the mayor had supported arts funding by creating a $15 million "One City Fund," which will pay for grants to nonprofit groups in a number of areas including job training, health and the arts.

However, when Evans publicly questioned Gray about the decision to reduce funding for the Arts and Humanities Commission after the budget became public, the mayor conceded that it was a matter of priorities. Gray has placed a $7 million grant for the commission on his priority list if more revenues open up.

Advocates say funding for the arts is an economic investment in the city.

"The arts is an economic driver," Payne said. "It's really an investment and a loan."

And, Evans said, the art's value transcends their economic contribution to the city.

"Great civilizations, great cities are known for their arts, not for their office buildings," he said. "That's why somebody's got to stand up for them."

Robert Bettmann, head of the DC Advocates for the Arts, said art supporters are planning to show their support for funding increases on April 17 by meeting with council members and demonstrating on behalf of the cause.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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