Victory for Theatre in D.C. Council Creates Dedicated Sales Tax to Fund the Arts

Economic boost promises to benefit entire District of Columbia. For the first time theatres will be able to plan ahead and obtain matching grants knowing that the District has a dedicated funding stream for the arts.

Actors' Equity Association, the national labor union for professional stage actors and stage managers, released the following statement after members of the Council of the District of Columbia approved a dedicated sales tax to fund the arts at their last legislative meeting in June. The new tax is expected to generate $30 million per year to fund local theatre and arts productions.

"Equity members are the heart and soul of theatrical productions that generate millions of dollars in economic activity in the District of Columbia," said Kate Shindle, President of Actors’ Equity. "A strong cultural economy helps create a stronger economy for the whole city. This move will create good jobs and benefit everyone in the District of Columbia." 

Actors' Equity recently released a new study of regional theatre and found the District of Columbia is a leader, with nearly 17 weeks of professional theatre produced in the District for each Equity member in the region. Outside of the large theatre centers of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, only one city, Orlando, was producing more professional theatre. View the full study here.

Theatres create jobs onstage, backstage and for other box office personnel. They also help stimulate tourism and support surrounding businesses. A 2017 study by the non-profit organization Americans for the Arts estimated the economic value generated by the audiences who attend performing arts events in the District of Columbia exceeded $1.2 billion. Additionally, local arts organizations generated another $1.6 billion in economic activity, totaling a combined impact that approached $3 billion.

“We think the District of Columbia is a model for other cities that want to both support the arts and create new jobs,” said Roy Gross, Chair of Equity’s Washington, D.C/Baltimore Liaison Committee. “Having this dedicated funding stream will enable theatres to apply for multi-year matching grants which will further boost arts funding and benefit the arts and those who make their living on the stage and behind it and for all those who work at bars, restaurants, parking garages and other businesses near theatres.”

Local Equity members wrote hundreds of letters to councilmembers in support of the arts funding legislation. Shindle also submitted testimony to the council. Her written remarks can be found here.

​Earlier this spring, Councilmember Jack Evans, who chairs the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue, joined by Mary Cheh, David Grosso, Brianne Nadeau, Brandon Todd and Robert White introduced the Commission on the Arts and Humanities Dedicated Funding Amendment Act of 2018, which dedicates a quarter of a percent (.25 percent) of the existing sales and use tax to the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

The move came while the Trump Administration proposed to eliminate funding to the National Endowment for the Arts. Overall, NEA funding has been cut by $20 million annually since 2010. State funding for the arts is 42.5 percent down from its all-time high levels dating back to 2001, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA).

Since 1967, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities has provided grants and educational opportunities to support nonprofit organizations, including arts education in public schools and public charter schools throughout the District. The Commission will manage grants generated by the new tax.