Response of Erik S. Gaull, Candidate for D.C. Council (Ward 3) to the
District of Columbia Arts Forum Public Officials’ Arts Questionnaire
1. Question: As a City Council Member would you continue to provide and increase funding for the DC Arts Commission for local arts grants and arts education programs?
2. Question: Now knowing that there is a major economic return on investing in the arts in DC, what plans do you have to continue revitalizing neighborhoods and commercial districts with an infusion of the arts?
Answer: In 2000, the League of Washington Theatres published a study of theatre-going in the D.C. area. Most (75%) local theatre-goers are from Maryland or Virginia. More than half of theatre-goers will eat dinner as a part of the evening, and a third will pay for parking. This means that locating arts and cultural events in the District brings revenues into the D.C. from the suburbs. Arts and cultural facilities (especially those that are Metro-accessible) provide much-needed anchors for neighborhood revitalization as demonstrated in the Penn Quarter by the Shakespeare and Woolly Mammoth Theatres, 14th Street by the Studio Theatre, the U Street Corridor by the Lincoln Theatre, Columbia Heights by the Tivoli Theatre, and the H Street Corridor by the Atlas Arts Center.
I will promote policies and investment in such neighborhood-based arts and cultural facilities and programs. I will favor mixed-use development projects that have an arts/cultural component, and will seek to have such a component be a requirement when public funds/space or zoning concessions are sought.
3. Question: What benefits do you believe the arts can bring to DC residents and neighborhoods?
Answer: In 1963, paying a posthumous tribute to Robert Frost, President John F. Kennedy said,
“Art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state.”
Nothing more succinctly captures why I believe that supporting arts and culture is an important role for government in an open society. In addition to providing social commentary and criticism, the arts provide D.C. residents material benefits in form of economic development and aesthetic enhancement (for example, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities initiatives such as the Arts in Public Places Program and the panda, donkey, and police call box programs). The arts also provide educational opportunities and outlets for D.C. residents.
4. Question: What is your position on the DC Office of Planning’s efforts to include Arts and Culture as a separate component of the city’s overall Comprehensive Plan for the future?
Answer: The elevation of the status of Arts and Culture within the pending D.C. Comprehensive Plan is long overdue. The new status that Arts and Culture will enjoy in the Comprehensive Plan only underscores the importance of arts and culture in making Washington, D.C. the vibrant, cosmopolitan center that the nation’s capital should be. I firmly believe that people choose to live in a city because cities offer a concentration of services, amenities, and cultural offerings that are not available in more suburban and rural settings. If the Mayor and the City Council are to make the District of Columbia an attractive place for people to live, then the city must have a wealth of artistic and cultural offerings. The recognition of this fact is embodied in the Office of Planning’s action, and I wholeheartedly support it.
5. Question: Will you continue this policy to assist in the growth of citywide and neighborhood cultural facilities? What other specific steps would you take to continue improving cultural facilities in DC Neighborhoods?
Answer: Absolutely, I will support policies to ensure the continued growth and stability of cultural facilities on a citywide and a neighborhood basis.
Many people are unaware that Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area are home to over 80 theatre companies, making it second only to New York City as a “theatre town.” Many of the smaller theatre companies in the District have no permanent “home” or dedicated performance space. For example, the highly acclaimed Rorschach Theatre Company stages its performances at the Casa Del Pueblo Methodist Church in Columbia Heights.
I would like to see artistic and cultural uses co-located with renovated libraries, public schools, and recreation/community centers. Creating a system of neighborhood-based public-access arts facilities would ensure that arts groups, such as Rorschach Theatre Company, can obtain much-needed professional venues at which they can exhibit and perform while facilitating access to such exhibits and performances by D.C. residents.
6. Question: What arts and cultural activities have you personally attended, participated in, and/or supported in the last year?
Answer: I am extremely proud of my long-term active attendance at, participation in, and support for arts/cultural activities in the District of Columbia. My interest in and commitment to theatre and the arts extends back to the mid-1970s, when as a seventh-grader I became involved in a highly professional theatre arts program in my high school. I remained active in theatre throughout high school and into college, even working one summer in a New York City theatre. Within a week of moving to Washington, D.C. in January 1986, I was availing myself of cultural events at the Kennedy Center. Since then, I have attended performances at Kennedy Center, Shakespeare Theatre, Arena Stage, National Theatre, Studio Theatre, and Folger Theatre on an occasional basis. I became a subscriber to Shakespeare Theatre Company, Arena Stage, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company during the 1995-1996 season.
My involvement in the arts has not been limited to the theatre. I have been a member of NSOvation, the young patrons’ society of the National Symphony Orchestra, since 1995. For the past year, I have been a member of the Executive Committee of NSOvation, recruiting new members to NSOvation, helping to plan and execute events, selecting performances, and setting overall strategic direction for the group. Additionally, I have subscribed to the ballet at the Kennedy Center for four seasons and have attended opera performances there on an occasional basis since 1993. I have also subscribed to the Washington Bach Consort for the better part of 10 years.
I have actively provided financial support to the arts in the District of Columbia for a number of years. In the last 12 months, I have donated over $8,000 to support various arts groups in Washington, D.C. I am a Circles-level supporter of the Kennedy Center, a Fellows-level supporter of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and a member of the Corcoran’s 1869 Society. Other arts groups I supported last year (and this) include the Georgetown Symphony Orchestra (now called the Capital City Symphony) and the Washington Conservatory of Music. I also contributed to the initial effort to save the Avalon Theatre on upper Connecticut Avenue, and I continue to donate to the non-profit corporation that runs the Avalon Theatre presently.
My most significant participation in the District’s arts and culture community has been my involvement with the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Benefit Committee. Last year I was a member of the Benefit Committee and helped to raise over $175,000 in one evening at the Woolly Mammoth Annual Gala Benefit. This year, I am a Co-Chair of the Committee. We hope to raise approximately $200,000 at this year’s benefit, which will be held April 29th.