From Washington, DC:
I can't think of a better way to remember and honor those whose voices have been silenced, than by gathering together in song.
Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is JR Russ. I worked here at the Commission first as a Grants and Legislative Affairs Assistant; then as a Grants Co-manager for the Artist Fellowship Program, with Regan Spurlock; and finally as the Online Marketing Manager, working with Jeffrey Scott and Teresa Boersma, up until last summer. And while I would love to be back working with Mr. Scott and Ms. Boersma or most anyone else here, it is nonetheless a treat to be back not as staff, but simply a DC artist, resident, and native. I actually grew up at 605 G St SW, where my parents still live, just about 8 blocks to the west.
Whether you knew me before today or not, I thought I’d just share a bit about myself first before getting to my request. Born and raised in DC, my first artistic endeavor was as a professional boy soprano, singing at the Washington National Cathedral. My pinnacle experience there was singing at Justice Thurgood Marshall’s funeral, back in 1993.
I went on to become involved in theatre in high school where I was president of the Drama Club, and ended up going to the University of Maryland College Park, as a dance major. After graduating I would go on to work on and off stage at various dance and theatre organizations in the metropolitan area, from teaching at City Dance to managing a Discovery Theater tour, from being a part of the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s opening season performing in the Washington Savoyards’ Kiss Me, Kate, to dancing in Bodies in Urban Spaces a site-specific public art dance that would lead audience members throughout Chinatown to end up at the Harman Center for the inaugural VelocityDC Festival.
And as I seemed to get pulled into more of the admin work as well, I ended up pursuing my M.A. in Arts Management from American University, where my thesis was on how working performers in the DC area defined arts advocacy and community. Since then, I’ve explored my own artistic voice and vision, having produced shows at five of the last six Capital Fringe festivals, with another show on the way this summer where I’ve committed to providing ASL interpreters for three of the six performances. And I endeavor to find other ways to be an active & engaged participant in our local community, from serving as a member of the steering committee for the Emerging Arts Leaders DC to being the first one to move into the Brookland Artspace Lofts five years ago.
Current affiliations include being an artistic collaborator with dog & pony dc, a board member of Story District 5 years going on 6, as well as one of Dance Place’s newest board recruits. Oh yeah: and Burning Man. Upcoming projects other than Fringe include being a judge for Capturing Fire’s Queer Cookie Slam, facilitating an arts advocacy session at Now Next Dance’s First Leadership Symposium at the Dance Loft on 14, and being in Synetic Theater’s remount of Twelfth Night this summer.
My current day job is actually my first non-arts job in ten years: I’m the Communications and Development Manager at the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. An organization that’s been around for over ten years, we have about 150 member organizations, many of which are arts organizations or community-based organizations with arts programs for youth.
But the takeaway for me there has been learning what I can from an organization that is VERY effective with its youth advocacy, and seeing what I can bring back to arts advocacy in DC. Being here, talking to you, is just a part of that. And I hope, in sharing my own work before, outside of, & after my time at the Commission, you understand both the breadth & depth of my experience with, passion for & dedication to our arts community.
And so the main reason, my main request, for coming here today has to do with the current strategic plan. Since it’s been posted on the website last September, I noted it’s only been mentioned five times at Commission meetings, according to the minutes. And while this is certainly understandable, as there’s been a good bit of transition since it was posted, if possible I would ask for the following, which you might already be planning to do anyway.
There are a lot of great priorities and strategies in the strategic plan. It would be wonderful if, at one year in, the Commission could share some kind of status report regarding what’s been accomplished. It certainly doesn’t have to be comprehensive and practically can’t be. But at the very least, I’d say an update on all the strategies identified as priority one would be ideal. Anything less would be questionable.
Your strategic plan’s theme is “leadership beyond grantmaking”. And you have a great roadmap in your strategic plan for “communications beyond programming”. Because I’m not asking you to just share an update with me, but to do so proactively and publicly.
In sharing the plan within even just my own networks, there’s been a lot of positive feedback to the strategies outlined, but cautious concern about actual implementation or execution. The negative optics and perception (real or imagined) of if just sitting on a shelf for the next five years could be easily counteracted by simply keeping the community updated as progress is made. Thank you for considering this. And thank you for your time.
Our mission is to serve and advance the diverse cultural interests of the residents and workers of the District of Columbia. We believe in the power of the arts, humanities andthe entire creative sector of the economy to enliven and strengthen our communities. We focus our efforts on the nonprofits arts community, individual artists and creativeentrepreneurs, the humanities field, and decision-makers. We provide support through funding, programs that address gaps, and educational opportunities and we provide leadership through policy, innovation initiatives, knowledge and connections.
The Commission enhances the quality of life and economic well being of DC residents by nurturing DC’s artists and cultural institutions and by fostering the conditions where creative enterprises can prosper.
A #DCArts PSA:
Today is the DC Council's FY17 Budget Hearing for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
The numbers again (becase as of this post, it's still not updated on the DC Advocates for the Arts website)?
FY15 Actual - $14,555,386
FY16 Approved - $15,955,248
FY17 Proposed - $15,534,436
From Part 1, beginning on page 336 or B-85, here: http://cfo.dc.gov/node/289642
Of particular note regarding increases and decreases in the agency's submitted budget, and enhancements and reductions in the Mayor's proposed budget, are the following excerpts:
*Agency Budget Submission*
Increase: The budget proposal in Local funds reflects a net increase of $672,375 and 8.0 FTEs across
multiple programs. This adjustment redirects funding from budget allocations for contractual services as
DCCAH transfers certain operational responsibilities that are currently carried out by contractors to
agency employees. Additional funding is also proposed in Local funds in support of DCCAH’s
sponsorship and marketing activities, and this accounts for an increase of $257,619.
In Federal Grant funds, an increase of $7,500 aligns budget with projected grant awards from the Arts
in Underserved Communities and Arts Education grants. This adjustment supports DCCAH’s operations
in the Arts Learning and Outreach and Arts Building Communities programs. In Intra-District funds, the
proposed budget includes an increase of $93,000 to the Arts Learning and Outreach and Arts Building
Communities programs. This adjustment is based on a Memorandum of Understanding agreement with
the Department of Employment Services in support of the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment
Decrease: The budget in Local funds is proposed for a decrease of $108,561, based on DCCAH’s plan to
move certain contractual services in-house, thereby eliminating the associated contractor service fees. A
decrease of $897,116 across multiple programs in Local funds accounts for reduced funding allocations
for DCCAH’s diverse range of sub-granting activities that support practicing artists, arts organizations
and community groups.
In Special Purpose Revenue Funds, the proposed budget is reduced by $300,000 to align funding with
*Mayor’s Proposed Budget*
Enhance: DCCAH’s proposed budget in Local funds reflects an increase of $91,301 in funding to the
Agency Management program to support an additional 1.0 FTE that enables the agency to establish a
General Counsel position to meet its increased legal services volume.
Reduce: The budget in Local funds is decreased by $312,613 from the Arts Building Communities and
Arts Learning and Outreach Programs to account for projected programmatic cost savings in nonpersonal
If you can't make it, you can still tune in and watch live here: http://dccouncil.us/videos
This is reposted from a Facebook post.
Facebook: What's on your mind?
Me: Glad you asked. If you've seen either of my last two videos, street harrassment and a culture of consent (thank you Burning Man Global Leadership Conference) are top of mind right now.
Let me just say that I personally think that we do have a right to say hello to each other in public spaces. I'd say where the line was drawn last night is that we do NOT have the right to expect and receive a response.
Last night a gentleman didn't receive one after multiple attempts to engage a woman waiting for a cab. So I spoke up, and not for her, but as witness to her and the situation. I know women can speak up for themselves. At the same time, I can only imagine how hard it is to want to say No but not, because even THAT is a response that can actually encourage further harassment, so the safest thing to do might be to do and say nothing.
And I certainly appreciate the expression of concern from friends, and am seriously thinking about taking self-defense classes. But my concern for the lady simply feeling safe and knowing she wasn't alone trumped my own feeling of safety, not that I ever felt unsafe. We were right in front of a bar we had just exited, and staff was right inside still closing and cleaning up.
I will say while I've been accused of not being a native Washingtonian, I've never been called a "leader of gentrification" or "the biggest contributor to black-on-black crime", the latter of which I didn't even realize was potentially a veiled threat until friends asked me to simply be safe. But those and other attempted insults, including calling out my perceived sexuality, only reinforced how absurd this conversation was in the first place.
On the latter though, I found it ironic that in saying women felt safer around gay men, he implied that straight men by nature are predatory and/or don't make women feel safe...not helping his point at all.
I guess my only thought is that while silence on her part was an attempt to not engage, does silence on the part of people nearby condone the behavior, at least when in public spaces? I understand the concern for personal safety, but again, if that's what we feel as a passerby, what must the person who's the object of that attention feel. Not saying there's a right answer, but I can't stop asking the question.
Anyway, personally I will be looking more into the work of Collective Action for Safe Spaces. If you haven't heard of them, it's an organization "working to empower people in the DC metropolitan area to build a community free from public sexual harassment and assault."
And if you have your own story to share, maybe we should make a night of it, to raise awareness and keep the conversation going.