Chairman Phil Mendelson cuts councilman's plan to fund favored arts organizations

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D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson quietly killed a plan by Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans meant to direct arts grant money to specific organizations, the majority of which are in his ward.

In his budget, Mendelson removed a proposal by Evans that set aside several million dollars with particular organizations in mind, including Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum and Blues Alley, a jazz club.

In recent years, the Council has restricted its ability to earmark money for specific organizations and has largely relied on grant-making bodies to allocate money fairly and nonpolitically across the city.

For the arts, the Arts and Humanities Commission is primarily responsible for handing out millions of grants, funded by the city, every year.

But, Evans -- who says he does not oppose allowing the Council to approve specific grants or earmarks -- attempted to circumvent those restrictions by specifically detailing what type of group should receive the grant money, aiming to box the commission into assigning the grants to particular groups.

"I do have specific recipients in mind, but they're going to have to apply," Evans said in an interview with The Washington Examiner on Friday.

Evans' Committee on Economic Development listed seven different grants with specific descriptions of who should be awarded the money.

Reacting to Evans' plan, DC Advocates for the Arts wrote in an email, "If a business wouldn't be able to win a competitive grant they shouldn't get an earmark, and if they would win, they don't need an earmark. Why should all of us have to apply for grants, but these seven groups -- because of the their political connections -- don't have to?"

Mendelson's final budget, which was approved by the Council, eliminated Evans' detailed, sometimes multipart requirements but included a $1.25 million increase in grants funding, boosting the final funding for operations-related grants to $5.85 million. That brings the Arts and Humanities Commission's total operating budget to $8.25 million.

The budget also creates a permanent funding source for the arts in the future, setting aside a quarter of a percent of the sales tax for arts funding starting in fiscal year 2015.

Evans and Mendelson hope the money will go to the seven groups identified by Evans' committee.

"I just say that the language was difficult so we took the language out, but we also made clear through the process that the additional money was being added to the arts commission so that it would consider the projects that Evans had identified," Mendelson said.

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