It doesn’t matter, woman or man / Anyone who’ll give them a hand / Cash money, that green / Cold cash, that’s the scene
– Stevie V, “Dirty Cash (Money Talks)”
We’re at a time and place regarding the impasse between Washington, DC’s local government and arts community where we need to start considering that the gap between the two over what to do with the Union Arts space at 411 New York Avenue, NE may be too wide for the two to find common ground equitable for both sides. DC’s desire to court big investment money likely sees the city’s “little a” arts community as just that; an independent, underground and not-so-mainstream DIY thing that’s not necessarily needing of a defined incubation space in order to continue as it famously has for a half-century or more. However, digital age democratization of all industries would lead “little a” arts to (correctly) believe that what’s “independent” has the ability to be just as (or more) relevant than that which is “mainstream.” The need for a solution is absolutely important, and given that we’re looking at yet another round of hearings on March 16, that solution isn’t likely imminent, either. Into this conversation, let’s introduce the notion of massively successful corporations, their philanthropic “fuck you” money, and what could be a least anticipated — and ideally, most wanted — end to a too-long conversation.
Let’s define “fuck you” money as the kind of money that independently wealthy people and private organizations have that allows them to brazenly enter into a conversation and override policy via commercial investment. It’s this kind of money that allows the owners of the New York Jets and New York Giants NFL franchises, Bud Light, Pepsi, Verizon and others to spend $1.6 billion building MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey largely un-bothered by the state of New Jersey, mainly due to the possibilities of private-to-public income accrual by the state. It’s also the kind of money that allowed Japanese fast casual clothier to lease 89,000 square feet of retail space on New York City’s 5th Avenue in 2011 and open it’s global flagship location, and likely tons of other similar game-changing real estate deals in other metropolitan areas nationwide.
When it comes to creative culture, “fuck you” money and the Nation’s Capital, we actually have proof that this concept can work. In 2011, Vitamin Water, Art Whino, Living Social, Anheuser Busch, Fader and Discovery Channel’s Brightest Young Things-run collaboration for the 20,000 square foot month-long “Uncapped” installation on 13th and U Streets, NW proved that if private organizations invest in a location and fill it with locally-sourced art, music, comedy and entertainment, that people will undoubtedly support it.
However, though as sunny as my take on the solution to DC’s art problems are, there’s a key idea regarding “fuck you” money that must be remembered. The key to “fuck you” money is that ultimately, spending it is the equivalent of already owning one million dollars, but throwing one million throwing pennies into a wishing well and at some undetermined point in the future believing that those one million pennies will yield one million MORE dollars. For most companies currently invested in DC, the idea of engaging in such a fantastically brazen financial gambit in this market with an incredibly unstable ability to accurately calculate a return of investment (ROI), it’s likely not ideal. If it were, we could’ve easily seen 411 New York Avenue would be called the Verizon Arts and Music Loft and we wouldn’t be having hearings at all.
In examining the financial outcomes-so-far for the aforementioned “fuck you” expenditures by the Jets and Giants at MetLife Stadium and by Uniqlo in America, an honest and sobering picture is painted regarding the potential economic turmoil dealing with an unknown ROI that private funder-as-problem solver in DC might face.
Regarding Uniqlo, whose NYC foray in 2011 has become a globalized brand expansion, the company is currently falling short of expectations of $45 billion in global sales by 2020. This failure is due in part to the company still having low American brand recognition and thus, low American sales. However, Uniqlo remains undeterred in their plan, and for the first time ever, currently have more stores based worldwide than in the company’s native Japan.
As far as the Giants, Jets and MetLife Stadium, in 2013, MetLife Stadium was named as the highest grossing stadium in the world, earning $46,189,454 on non-pro football events alone. Of course, there’s no statements regarding net income — aka the gross revenue minus the costs associated with running the stadium itself — of MetLife, but one can presume that the costs associated with running an 83,000 seat stadium that hosts roughly 40 events a year that the stadium is either breaking even, or possibly running at a loss to the many investors involved.
Insofar as DC’s corporate future, we know that just within the tech sector alone, that the potential for Microsoft, Apple and Google to be active in DC is possible. As well, we know that wildly successful fast-casual retailers like H & M, Zara, Forever 21 and Uniqlo could all be in the city, too. Let’s throw in the idea of online-only retailers like Amazon and China’s Alibaba as well, plus potentially many more. Also, if guys like DC native and Momofuku’s CCDC owner David Chang aspire to one day purchase the Washington Football Team, there absolutely has to be someone in the aforementioned milieu of billionaires that loves go-go, moombahton and DIY craftspeople. In all actuality given the philanthropic track record of someone like Zara owner Amancia Ortega or Alibaba’s Jack Ma, this could occur.
The future of DC’s arts community probably won’t be decided in a meeting room. In all likelihood, someone’s just going to financially say “fuck you” to someone else, and a solution will be found.