A DC idea to fund the arts through the Smithsonian, playoff games

WASHINGTON — A D.C. councilman has a big idea to apply dollars generated through sales tax at playoff games, and even at the Smithsonian, to fill the funding gap for local arts.

“How do you create new money? This is an idea,” said Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee. He came up with the idea and voiced it in part at a budget meeting Wednesday.

To find money for the arts in the coming FY18 budget, Evans wants to impose a sales tax on gifts and concessions visitors buy at the Smithsonian, to start.

“If we could capture that amount and keep it … that would easily be $5 million or more,” he said.

There is currently no sales tax inside the museums, and it would take an act of Congress to approve it.

“We’d alert them we’d like to do this. I’m taking the steps necessary for Congress to either say yes or no, and that’s important,” he said.

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year gives the D.C. Commission of the Arts and Humanities nearly $5 million less than it once had. Evans thinks the success of the District’s teams could also help bridge that gap.

“What I would do is dedicate all sales taxes earned in the playoffs for any Washington teams … to arts,” he said.

Testifying in front of the committee, citizens representing a number of artistic groups in the city urged the committee to push for more money for the arts and humanities commission in the budget.

“Every arts organization in our city, indeed our nation, faces a similarly urgent and disheartening dilemma,” said a representative from the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

The arts community is also concerned about the danger to funding for the arts on the national level. The city receives $780,000 in grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, according to Evans, which is at risk of losing significant federal support itself.

“We want to replace that with District funds to make sure the organizations that would have gotten the money still get the money,” Evans said.

He expects to propose two pieces of legislation early next month.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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