Mayor Bowser’s office tries to seize the Arts Commission art collection

UPDATE, Sep 11, 4:45 p.m.: On September 5, a spokesperson for the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities said the mayor’s office had restored access to the public art vault. But a week later, staff at the arts commission who look after the city’s public art collection say they are still on lockdown. Now the only way for public art staff to access the art bank is to get permission from the staff of the Cable TV, Film, Music and Entertainment Bureau. This office, headed by Angie gates, a close friend and ally of the mayor, has now absorbed at least two programs previously run by the Arts Commission: the Mayor’s Annual Arts Awards and the City’s Public Art Collection.


Last Friday, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office took action to seize the art collection held by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities by locking commission staff out of the agency’s public art vault. , intensifying a heated confrontation between the mayor and the city’s arts administration body. .

DCCAH staff arrived at their southeastern offices ahead of the bank holiday weekend to find that the badges that gave them access to the agency’s art collection were no longer working. According to the staff present, including one whose access was affected, the commission employees soon realized that no one could enter the safe, a safe for hundreds of paintings, photographs, sculptures and other works by artists of the district. Among the local luminaries represented in the collection are William christenberry, Alma thomas, and Sam gilliam.

Several staff who were not authorized to speak about the incident described a security guard arriving on Friday morning to discuss the situation in the lobby with Terrie Rouse-Rosario, outgoing interim director of the committee. When staff returned after the Labor Day vacation on Tuesday, they still couldn’t fit into the locker of flat files, rolling paint racks and other storage units.

In a note to the commissioners, Kay kendall, the chairman of the board of directors of the Arts Commission, confirmed that the locks had been changed. “Yes, apparently last Friday when [art collection registrar Ron Humbertson] tried to access the art vault to get art for an installation, he couldn’t get in, ”the note read. “It was a surprise because he (and no one that I know of) had a warning.”

It was not immediately clear who made the decision to cut the Arts Commission staff, or when. “It was outside the agency,” says Jeffrey Scott, head of external affairs of the commission. “We didn’t lock ourselves in, of course.” (He adds that staff access to the Arts Bank vault – a collection of over 3,000 works of art, only some of which is stored in the vault at any given time – has now been restored. .)

Yet the stewardship of the city’s art collection appears to be on hold. In response to questions about the incident, the mayor’s office provided a statement. “The art collection is owned and insured by the District of Columbia government,” said Chanda Washington, communication director of the office of the deputy mayor in charge of town planning and economic development. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to maintain these precious assets and their rich cultural history. “

The apparent maneuver is the final turning point in the wrestling match between the town hall and the arts commission. Thursday, the day before the apparent lockout, Mayor Bowser announced the launch of a new creative affairs office, a new arts policy agency, at a party for the 202Creates festival at the Eaton Hotel.

In her memo, Kendall cites the Creative Affairs Bureau as a factor in the alleged seizure of the art collection. “[T]This action really makes sense once you read the final point of the mayor’s announcement regarding the new creative affairs office that will keep all art belonging to the district.

Earlier this year, the mayor’s office tried to exercise greater control over arts funding. It’s a big scholarship: In fiscal 2017, the Arts Commission allocated some $ 23 million in grants for the arts. Mayor’s plan to convert multi-million dollar arts grants into loans sparked an uproar from artists and arts organizations across the city. During budget negotiations over the summer, the DC Council presented an amendment to assert the independence of the Arts Commission.

The legislation has not settled the issue. Executive staff at the arts commission interpret the legislation to mean that DCCAH must now go it alone, according to staff familiar with the agency’s preparations for the next fiscal year. The commission spokesperson confirms that the agency is drafting memoranda of understanding with district agencies to pay for space, utilities and other services on October 1.

“Part of how we’ve come to this understanding, that this is the way we’re going to have to operate, is the direction we’ve received from [DMPED] and [EOM]Scott says. “But this is also the practice of other independent agencies within the district government.”

He adds: “What is different is that these agencies started out as independent.”

The text of the legislation in question says that “the mayor shall provide the Commission with the services and facilities necessary for the Commission to discharge its functions and responsibilities”. (Scott says the bill doesn’t say the mayor must provide services for free.)

Another relevant line in the bill could talk about the future of the commission’s art collection. “By October 1, 2019, the mayor transfers to the Commission the positions, staff, property, files and unspent balances of appropriations, allowances and other funds available or allocated to the mayor’s office for funding purposes and Operating. the Commission, date on which the Commission for Arts and Human Sciences within the Mayor’s Office will be abolished.

The split in the interpretation of the legislation has had concrete consequences for the arts commission even though the bill has not yet entered into force. When Rouse-Rosario, the outgoing interim director of the agency and an ally of Bowser,announced his resignation, it was also announced that the mayor was canceling the 34th annual Mayor’s Arts Awards.

Now the annual gala and awards ceremony are back, but under the responsibility of the Creative Affairs Bureau, the new office of the Cable TV, Film, Music and Entertainment Bureau.

The announcement of the mayor’s new arts office drew criticism from the chairman of the council Phil mendelson, who headed the legislative bulwark of the Arts Commission.

Ultimately, any decision regarding the stewardship of the city’s art collection may rest with Angie gates, director of OCTFME and close friend and ally of Bowser. Gates’ office did not return a request for comment. In a note sent Thursday night, Kendall writes that “Terrie and Angie have spoken and Angie is happy to work with us.

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Aurora J. William

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