Alliance Lets Businesses, Artists Swap Strengths, Skills

October 14, 1990|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

By the time the county's arts community and business community assembled last Thursday for their fourth annual luncheon, the county's artistic landscape had changed from the days of the first one -- largely because of the interaction between arts groups and businesses.

Businesses have helped not just with their grant money, which still totals much less than what federal, state and county governments contribute, but in business savvy and connections, arts administrators say.

It's a two-way street, John E. Frohnmayer, chairman of the embattled National Endowment for the Arts, pointed out in his speech at Thursday's luncheon.

"The arts bring business to a community," he said. "A little bit of money spread around is going to make things happen. Small communities are often the most receptive."

A study commissioned by the Rockland Arts Council estimated that arts programs drew $27 million in business to the county last year.

Before the mid-1980s, council Director Mary Toth said, businesses and artists didn't mix much in the county. Nowadays, it's increasingly common to find the two working together.

Toth cited increasing contributions to the council, which gives money to 13 arts organizations and its own Rockland Arts Center in Ellicott City.

Corporate sponsorship of the council has gone from zero four years ago to $17,500 this year. But that is still a fraction of its $117,000 budget, which comes mostly from government grants, she said.

Much of the growth in involvement, Toth said, grew out of getting business leaders, artists and arts organizers together at the council's annual Business in Concert with the Arts luncheons, now in their fourth year. The gatherings feature prominent speakers, live performances and visual arts showcases.

Connections between the business community and arts community have proliferated, she said.

Business people serve on arts organizations' boards to help manage the business of art. For example, Sonny Crowson of American Lockworks' Columbia office is a director of Columbia Pro Cantare while developer John C.

Mardall and Rouse Co. Vice President Richard G. McCauley serve on the board of the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

"What we're seeing is more of what I would call a true partnership between arts and business," with business leaders offering "management expertise so that arts can be better business," Toth said.

She explained that in particular, arts organizations are businesses whose directors have to handle a budget and pay rent and employees just like any company. Toth said her group has received invaluable accounting assistance from the C.P.A. firm of Peat Marwick. In-kind help to the council from various firms will be worth between $50,000 and $60,000 this year.

Experience with management, as well as marketing and other financial duties, results in better use of grant money and relieves artists of business responsibilities -- where their principal expertise does not lie -- allowing them to concentrate on what they do best, Toth said.

While arts events are commonly dreamed up by artists who must then search for financial support, the Columbia Festival of the Arts started in the opposite way, explained Lynn Nemeth, the festival's managing director.

A group of business leaders from homebuilding giant the Ryland Group to Columbia's developer, the Rouse Co., got together with community leaders to start an arts festival they hoped would put Columbia on the nation's cultural map.

"They formed the board with the realization that there was going to have to be corporate support, the realization that we were going to have to have access to facilities," Nemeth said.

About $285,000 of this year's $450,000 festival budget came from corporations, Nemeth said.

"I couldn't do it. I don't have the contacts that they have," she said about financing the festival. "I think if it were me and a bunch of artists it would have been much more difficult."

Some companies have made a difference on their own, such as 2 -year-old Columbia Bank.

Bank executives serve on the boards of a number of arts organizations, such as the Rockland council and Pro Cantare, and the bank has "donated money to every group in the county," Toth said.

Columbia Bank single-handedly revived Shakespeare on Wheels' Columbia performances this year, which attracted nearly 3,000 people to Howard Community College for two nights in July and cost nearly $5,000.

The bank's senior vice president, Michael T. Galeone, said that effort was only part of more than $20,000 the bank has spent on the arts in the last 15 months.

"We think it's important to be involved and share in the interests of the county and be a part of it," he said, adding that identification with the community is crucial for a business that is so young.

But county companies could be doing more to support local artists, Toth said, by patronizing them individually.

"When companies go to decorate their offices, they frequently buy mass-produced artwork (such as lithographs and prints). They have to realize that there is an active local arts community," she said.

The Columbia Bank's promotion of the arts was recognized by the county arts council Thursday with a Howie award. Toby Orenstein also received a Howie for her successful mixing of business and the arts in Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia.

The luncheon also featured a performance by Eva Anderson, leader of the Eva Anderson Dancers, whose members performed in the movie "Avalon."

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