Natalie Hopkinson apparently did not behave properly, so now she may not serve on the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities anymore. The Howard University professor and co-founder of the #DontMuteDC movement has been waiting since May for a hearing on her nomination for the commission, which manages a nearly $ 40 million budget. DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson have exclusive competence to plan such a consultation. And he refuses to do so.
In the six months Hopkinson has been waiting, she has not been pale for calling shit.
She and Mendelson have swapped blows in government documents, news articles and medium-sized posts. Mendelson has referred to a “mess” in the commission, and although he has not called Hopkinson by name, he has noticed that the problems he sees seemed to arise right around the time she joined the commission. “The issue is more likely to be about personalities than material issues,” Mendelson said in a June report confirming the DCCAH Chair. Reggie Van Lee.
The “rudder” was also evident for Hopkinson. But the problem, as she saw it, was unequal art funding. Of particular concern to her was the formula Mendelson wrote into the law that set aside 28 percent of the commission’s budget for a cohort of mostly White-led art organizations with budgets of more than $ 1 million. The organizations in the National Capital Arts Cohort each received hundreds of thousands of dollars of grants without applying through the competition process that every other organization has to go through.
Hopkinson and Cora Mestre Barry has been among the loudest critics of the Commission’s historical inequalities and of this specific cut, and helped eliminate it this summer.
Mayor Muriel bowser Hopkinson and Barry nominated for the commission along with two other black women: Gretchen Wharton and Kymber Lovett-Menkiti. But Mendelson has only introduced one vote for Wharton and Lovett-Menkiti. Without Council action, Hopkinson and Barry’s nominations will expire on November 3 and they will be kicked out of the commission. Mendelson is apparently not going to shake.
After Colby King raised the issue in its Oct. 31 Washington Post Mendelson issued a public statement in which he accused Barry and Hopkinson of having “antagonized and alienated their colleagues, and not in a good way.” He quoted unnamed commissioners who complained to him that both women used descriptions such as “bomber”, “vicious” and “bully”.
Commissioners told the president that one of the two women “does not care about building a coalition.” “F *** White women” is another anonymous quote attached to one or both of the black women. Mendelson’s statement is not clear as to who the specific criticism is for.
Mendelson also accused Barry, the widow of Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry, for violating laws on ethics and conflicts of interest by voting on an arts commission grant to her nonprofit organization, the Recreation Wish List Committee.
A list of grant recipients for fiscal year 2021 shows that Barry’s nonprofit organization received a $ 60,000 grant from the Arts Commission, and minutes of August 2020 meetings show that the grants were approved unanimously.
Barry, who is the only paid employee in the nonprofit according to tax forms, did not respond to Loose Lips’ email for comment, but her spokeswoman, Raymone Bain, forwarded an email from Van Lee that was sent to Mendelson Sunday night. In it, Van Lee explains that the votes of art commissioners are “completely blind,” meaning that commissioners cannot see the names of grant applicants when they vote.
“As far as I know, there has been no inappropriate involvement of any Commissioner in the vote on appropriations,” Van Lee wrote in the email.
Current and former commissioners tell LL that it has not been uncommon for art commissioners to vote for grants to organizations in which they are involved.
During a news conference Monday morning, Mendelson declined to identify the anonymous commissioners he quoted or explain the context of their criticism. Asked whether these criticisms could be adequately aired during a public hearing, the chairman said: “I would rather put it all behind us … than pull it out and intensify that controversy.”
The quotes do not surprise the art commissioner Quanice Floyd given the discourse on the Commission.
“I know who would describe them as that. It’s because they are uneasy,” she says, referring to anchored commissioners she says were resilient to change.
Floyd, who is Black, acknowledges that discussions about race and justice that Barry and Hopkinson are forcing among commissioners can get tense. But passion is often confused with anger, she says, noting that other commissioners have been just as ugly. “And ugly without an agenda,” she adds. “That’s the worst thing about it.”
Hopkinson prefers not to participate in anonymous attacks.
“I would love to have a hearing, and if people are worried about why I have advocated for justice, to have it all open,” she says. “Using her public office as a platform for slander and insults against two professional women is unacceptable.”
To Benjamin Douglas, a former employee of the Arts Commission, the quotes reflect the hostility he saw directed at Hopkinson and Barry.
He remembers the former President of the Commission Kay Kendall and current Deputy Director David Markey questions why subsidies should go to support go-go music.
“None of it was explicitly racist, but no doubt blatantly racist in terms of their lack of understanding and unwillingness to understand,” Douglas says. “It was a direct mockery of the idea that we should support the district’s native music.”
In an email to LL, Kendall says Douglas’ description does not match her recollection.
“The Commission has always had a grant category for individual musicians, but after GoGo was named DC’s official music, the Commission created a funding category for GoGo musicians only as a way to support and highlight that genre of music,” she writes.
Markey says in an email to LL that CAH provided grants to support a go-go stay in schools and a grant to “engage middle school music teachers with professional development around a middle school [D.C. Public Schools] Go-Go cornerstone. “He denies opposing grants to support go-go music.
Large council member Robert White maneuvers to remove Hopkinson and Barry’s nominations from the Whole Committee chaired by Mendelson and bring them to the Council for a full vote.
“I’m very concerned about the stereotype and double standards of the ‘angry black woman,'” White told LL in an interview last week. “I’m not convinced that Cora or Natalie did or said anything different than men say or do, but that it’s seen as different, especially when it’s black women. I’m not prepared for the city to sin in any way. two black women doing necessary work. “
Faced with White’s concern, Mendelson shook during his Monday morning press. “Pull out something like that. Pull out such a red flag, wave it around, but that’s not true,” the chairman lamented.
White needs nine votes to pull the nominations out of Mendelson’s committee. On Monday, the president was convinced they were not there.
Mendelson told reporters he believes Hopkinson and Barry’s continued positions at CAH will hinder the progress the commission has made towards improving diversity and justice.
“I think they will take a lot of credit for that,” he said. “I think the current chairman of the commission deserves a lot of credit, and the commission as a whole deserves a lot of credit.”
Van Lee does not agree. In the email he sent to Mendelson Sunday night, “he emphatically supports[s]Hopkinson and Barry’s renown. He describes their participation in CAH meetings as “harmonious and collegial”, and writes that “their contribution to CAH is crucial to me in order not to lose momentum or otherwise jeopardize the implementation of these essential recommendations. “
“Had Cora and Natalie never spoken up, we would have done the same thing we did, which was to approve grants to the same institutions over and over again,” Floyd says.
Hopkinson, on the other hand, is appalled by the whole ordeal, which she likened to a “middle school food fight.”
“I’m not a politician,” she says. “I’m hovering over this.