June 22, 2010
Dear County Executive Isiah Leggett and Members of the County Council:
As Montgomery County residents active in the non-profit community, we want to thank you for
your demonstrated devotion to the non-profit sector. We are proud to live in a community whose
elected officials invest real attention and resources in the cultural and artistic environment of our
County, while also providing for other non-profits serving vital needs in our diverse
We are writing to express concerns held by a large number of citizens and non-profit leaders
about a pervasive and stark inequity with regard to the allocation of County resources to nonprofits.
We are asking for your leadership to rectify this situation by finding a more equitable and
creative means of sharing our cultural spaces and public resources. A glaring and frustrating
example is being illustrated in the pending Memorandum of Understanding between the County
and Round House Theatre, a rather awkward issue given that many of us work with Round
House and think highly of its artistic product. Round House is among the many highly valued
non-profit arts organizations in Montgomery County, and our view is that we are all in this
together, struggling to stay afloat in these tough economic times.
According to Jason Tomassini’s June 16, 2010 Montgomery Gazette article, Round House has
been given by the County, and still controls, at the cost of $1 per year the extraordinary flagship
400-seat Round House Theatre space in Bethesda, the Education Center on Ellsworth Drive in
Silver Spring, and the Black Box Theatre next door to AFI.
If Round House now succeeds in receiving a substantial share of the new Silver Spring Civic
Building, also for its standard $1 a year fee, it will bring the combined value of County
subventions to the group to well over $1.5 million in the form of annual rent-free arrangements
with the County. We are especially concerned that more space is being allocated to Round House
Theatre in the new Silver Spring Civic Building when they are not currently utilizing their
present space for its intended use.
While the Round House Black Box has attracted more arts-based rentals in the past year, the fact
remains that on average, over the past six years, Round House has done little programming of its
own in Silver Spring, and provides no unified artistic vision for the space. It has become by-andlarge
a rental house, with other non-profit community and arts groups paying significant amounts
for its use. Even the Round House education space on Ellsworth Drive has been sub-leased to
multiple organizations, and even at that, is woefully under-utilized.
First, we are asking that you, our elected officials, review, reevaluate and revisit the proposed
terms of the new agreement with Round House. Good governance requires agility and nimble
responses to ever changing circumstances. The agreement to have Round House occupy the
lower level of the Civic Building, as well as prime space on the plaza level, was made almost 10
years ago, when Silver Spring’s renaissance had only just begun to take shape and before the
emergence of other strong Silver Spring-based arts and community service organizations.
Moreover, we are asking that the County become more engaged with and provide greater
oversight of how groups who have been entrusted with control over precious public spaces
allocate these scarce resources to other people and groups in the community in exchange for the
taxpayer subsidies they receive. We ask that you convene a stakeholder group to develop and
implement a process for more creative and equitable sharing of our cultural spaces and public
resources. The people of Montgomery County seek a diverse and broadly accessible Silver
Spring Civic Building and town center facilities that serves all our interests.
Busy Graham, arts consultant and Founder of Class Acts Arts
Carol M. Leahy, Advocate, Board Member, Silver Spring Stage, President Emerita, Adventure Theatre
Cynthia Bridgford, President, North Woodside Montgomery Hills Citizens Association
Cynthia Terrell, community activist
Darian Unger, Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board
Dave and Toko Ackerman
Diane Vy Nguyen-Vu, Maryland Vietnamese Mutual Association (MVMA)
Don, Tina and Jessica Slater
Elissa Leif, Mini-Matters TV
Eric Cathcart, Potomac Talent
Evan Glass, PREZCO and Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board
Frankie Blackburn, Executive Director, Impact Silver Spring
Howard Kohn, community activist, Voice columnist, founder of Takoma Park Soccer
Jan Goldstein, Director, Arts on the Block
Jim Henkelman-Bahn, member, Christ Congregational Church, former Board member, Impact Silver Spring
Joan Burns, Executive Director, Class Acts Arts
Jon Lourie, chair, Silver Spring Town Center, Inc.
Jose Dominguez, Director, Pyramid Atlantic
Karen Lee, SEEC, Empowerment and Community for People with Developmental Disabilities
Kathy Stevens, Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board
Laura Steinberg, incoming chair, Impact Silver Spring
Linda and Jurg Siegenthaler
Luisa Montero, Director, Latin American Youth Center/Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers
Mark Gabriele, Past President, Seven Oaks / Evanswood Citizens' Association
Pauline Griller-Mitchell, Chair, Silver Spring Stage
Richard Jaeggi, Director, Gandhi Brigade
Rob Wolcott, Board Member and Past Board Chair, Silver Spring, YMCA
Tom Block, Director, Amnesty International Human Rights Arts Festival
Walter Gottlieb, Film Director/Producer
Wanjaru Kamau, African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation
Yvette Butler, Founder and Director, GapBusters
Statement of the Problem: The Inequity in Distribution of County Resources
• A single arts group—the Bethesda-based Round House Theatre—seems to be commanding a disproportionate share
of Silver Spring’s limited public resources.
• The agreement to have Round House occupy the lower level of the Civic Building was made almost 10 years ago,
when Silver Spring’s renaissance had only just begun to take shape and before the emergence of other strong Silver
Spring-based arts and community service organizations. Since then, additional space on the plaza level has been
allocated to Round House.
• According to a June 16 Gazette article, the combined rental savings afforded Round House is well over $1.5 million.
• In allocating resources, the County needs to ensure accountability for services rendered to the community in exchange
for such large subsidies.
• The community embraced the Round House Black Box Theatre as part of the Silver Spring’s revitalization, believing
it would contribute to Silver Spring becoming a destination point for great theatre events, providing a vibrant venue
for arts and culture, and bringing audiences throughout the week and weekends.
• The Black Box has become by-and-large a rental house, with other non-profit community and arts groups paying
significant amounts for the use of the space.
• Rental of the Black Box Theatre to the McLean Bible Church has had the unfortunate consequence of interfering with
arts groups presenting both matinee and evening performances on Sundays, the normal industry practice for most arts
presenters to make ends meet.
• The Round House education space on Ellsworth Drive has apparently been sub-leased to multiple organizations, and
• Areas in the Black Box Theatre building, such as the upstairs conference room, appear to be rarely used but could be
made available to non-profit organizations struggling to find affordable space for offices
• Question is begged as to why Round House Theatre cannot adapt their existing spaces, but instead is gaining
administrative plus additional classroom and rehearsal space, at a time when their current spaces are largely not being
used by Round House but instead being rented out to other non-profits, for-profits, and community groups.
Potential Solutions: Transparent Process and Public Rules of Accountability
• Convene a stakeholder group to develop and implement a process for more creative and equitable sharing of our
cultural spaces and public resources.
• Leverage existing assets and partnerships, already in place among both the arts and community service organizations,
to create synergy at the Civic Building.
• Nearly a decade ago, the Silver Spring Town Center Steering Committee, convened by then county executive Doug
Duncan, created a vision for the civic building as a “living room” space for the community, including children, youth,
adults and seniors from many walks of life, to bring us together, across cultures, ethnicities, socio-economic divides.
• Montgomery County has a vibrant and creative community of individuals, civic associations, and nonprofit
organizations with a well established history of working together to use public resources in a way that serves the
greatest common good.
• We stand ready to work with the County and Round House Theatre to create an arrangement for equitable access to
these public spaces in a way that fulfills the original vision for a diverse and vibrant Silver Spring.