As I’m writing this blog post, I’m staring at a press release that just arrived in my inbox from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Evidently, the DCCAH — which, I should mention in the interest of both fairness and full disclosure, has given me two grants and two awards over the years… and done the same for many other DC-based playwrights — has partnered with the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation (where’s the damn hyphen, by the way, in that name?) to develop a special funding program that will support local arts organizations in their efforts to bring touring productions and ensembles into DC.
It’s not that I don’t think DC residents benefit from the exposure to different worldviews that artists from other parts of the country and world afford us. I do. But are we really hurting for work like that? It seems to me we don’t have any shortage of touring productions; they’re on all the biggest stages in the city.
Now… this new program is designed to support organizations with operating budgets less than $500,000, so maybe it’s an attempt to get behind the efforts of smaller companies like, say, Solas Nua, which brings Irish plays to DC. As much as I like Solas Nua, though — and I do — I still don’t think the program makes sense.
As a city, we are (as I’ve noted on many occasions) a significant net importer of culture. Most of the stories we tell on our stages — as many as 95% of them, by some calculations — arrive in our city from elsewhere. We aren’t telling our own stories, and we aren’t sending enough work out into the world. How can that be good for us? More than anything, we need to change the import-export balance in the city. We need a fund to support the production of work by DC residents on DC stages, or the exporting of DC stories to other parts of the country. (Even in addition to the above-mentioned fund, rather than instead of it.) That would make a genuine difference.