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Women Bisnow
November 6, 2007

Cinderella of the Arts

This issue of Washington Women is presented
by Ernst & Young: "Quality in Everything We Do."

by Mary Westbrook

Step away from your TiVo.

Sure, the fall TV season is in full swing, but the weather’s fine and DC’s arts scene is more vibrant than ever – at least according to Jennifer Cover Payne, president of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington. “We’ve had a cultural renaissance in DC in the last 10 years,” says the DC native and alumna of Boston’s Emerson College. “It’s invigorating.”

Jennifer's position is a balance of glitz and hard work. "I have so many ball gowns," she admits. Here she is at the Alliance's 2003 Gala with Carla Perlo, founder of Dance Place in NE DC.

Also invigorating is the cool new Arts Calendar the Alliance plans to launch online this winter. With a budget of $250,000 (“not including all the sweat equity,” Jennifer says), the calendar is one of the 30-year-old trade group’s biggest initiatives. Created in partnership with, it will be a comprehensive clearinghouse of events from all of the Alliance’s nearly 300 members (including the National Gallery of Art, Strathmore, and the Shakespeare Theatre).

All dressed up again -- but always with somewhere to go, here attending the 2005 Gala with Marriott’s Abul Agha and James Akers.

This gives the Post an opportunity to promote arts organizations and cultural institutions of all sizes and disciplines,” she says. “It’s taken us about two years to create, but now anybody will be able to access these events directly online.  There are a lot of directories and websites, but until now not one place to go for everything.”

At the 2006 Alliance Gala, Jennifer with Woolly Mammoth artistic director Howard Shalwitz, actress Jewell Robinson, Target district team leader Valarie Younger, and Strathmore president Eliot Pfanstiehl. 

Jennifer should know. In addition to having trained as a vocalist in middle school under Roberta Flack, she’s served as a Commissioner of the DC Arts Commission and executive director of Camp Fire Boys and Girls of the Potomac Area before coming to the Alliance in 1994. And then there was her “other career” as the first African-American tenured in the college of arts and sciences at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

“We were really welcomed into that community, maybe because we were so different from everybody else,” says Jennifer, who still moonlights occasionally as a performance artist, motivational speaker, and corporate communications coach. “I’ve never had any issues myself as an African-American, but the arts world still has very little diversity in its leadership. You don’t see real ethnic diversity yet, and if it’s a major institution, you’re more likely to see men in the leadership roles.”

Also an economic thing:  The lack of affordable real estate for local artists. “The individual artist has a lot of opportunity here, but I don’t think the artist gets the respect or support they need,” she says. “But it’s amazing to see what’s happened in areas like U Street. When artists come into an area and stay, the whole place is transformed.”

So where can you find Jennifer about town this week? Everywhere, she sighs. But certainly not in front of a TV. There are far too many other things on her agenda. People think working in the arts must be so much fun,” she says, laughing. “It can be. But, your day may have started at 7:00, and you may not be home until midnight. You don’t get to luxuriate during the day and then go to the ball. I’m like Cinderella.”

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