Making Space for the Arts in the DC Cultural Plan

by Nena Perry-Brown

Making Space for the Arts in the DC Cultural Plan: Figure 1
Mural by Naturel in NoMA

DC is in the process of creating its first ever Cultural Plan, a blueprint that seeks to invest in and build upon the people, places and community ideas that define culture in the District.

The plan will be released in Spring 2017, but in the meantime, the city, via a joint effort between the Office of Planning, Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the Office of Cable Television, Film, Media and Entertainment, has been conducting a series of forums throughout the city to identify challenges and talk through potential solutions regarding cultural placemaking.

A large part of that discussion is focused on the creation and preservation of space for the arts and culture in the city. While the arts are a draw for people and create demand in neighborhoods that incorporate art elements, little attention is paid to the creatives who contribute to that.

One chief concern that resonates beyond the artistic sphere is the dearth of affordable housing and affordable live-work space in the city. Although concepts like the Brookland ArtSpace Lofts are functioning well for those who are able to secure units there, plenty of creatives are either displaced out of the area or are discouraged from pursuing a career in the arts. “It leads to a loss of talent,” an attendee at a forum last night noted, citing her experience as one of a few out of her class of art school graduates who were able to remain in the city. “As the years go by, I think a lot of people find that it’s prohibitively expensive to live but also work the way that you want to work in the arts and not in another sector, and remain in the city.”

In situations like the closure of the UnionArts warehouse in NoMA and the subsequent dispersal of the artists’ collective in that area, the city has failed to take the initiative to either prevent displacement or provide alternatives to ease transition into equally adequate spaces. “If you’re not able to live-work and you need to rent both places, the housing part is really what’s bogging you down and the real estate realities are incredible,” visual artist Patrick McDonough stated.

An older attendee recalled how in the mid-20th century, the DC Redevelopment Land Agency opened up several vacant city-owned buildings downtown to creatives as part of ongoing efforts to transform the then-neglected area. Now, artists are calling on the city to make the arts a more prioritized part of the request for proposal (RFP) process, whether by including an intermediary step to involve arts before RFPs are released, or by allowing artists a place at the table without having to go through developers.

Often, RFPs include a mandate for “the arts” without any specific requirements; however, as Ian Callendar of Blind Whino pointed out, “you see a lot of times that the developers that are incorporating these arts organizations, it’s the same arts organizations for every piece of property that they have and they’re basically utilizing all of the accessibility.”

Also, there is little incentive for developers to put forth much effort toward arts spaces; for example, 14th Street is designated as an Arts Overlay zone, but in recent years has primarily become known for a proliferation of bars and restaurants. “DC is the Bon Appetit restaurant city of the year, so maybe if we change the 10% restaurant tax to 15% and earmarking that specifically for arts funding — as one sector grows through creative economy support, why not leverage that?” posited McDonough.

Ultimately, creatives are calling on the city to take the lead on preserving the arts, whether by strengthening existing efforts through tax breaks, zoning and other concrete incentives, or implementing best practices seen in other states and cities — even next door in the Hyattsville Arts District. Even replicating the labs at MLK Library to create similar public-funded makerspaces in each ward would likely go a long way toward communicating a commitment to the creative sector in the city.

See other articles related to: office of planning, dc cultural plan

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/making_space_for_the_arts_in_the_dc_cultural_plan/11802

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »