Artful dodging

April 10, 1991

The annual wangling for Artscape funds has now become as much a part of the city's summer tradition as the festival itself. Again, the Schmoke administration is scrambling for money to keep the music and art fair alive while hundreds of thousands of dollars intended precisely for that purpose are being hoarded in Annapolis by a crew of Schaefer loyalists who appear almost to take delight in Kurt Schmoke's fiscal struggles.

The history of Artscape is a tawdry tale of petty politics. The event was conceived during the mayoral administration of William Donald Schaefer, who appointed Jody Albright, then director of art and culture, to set up a fund for Artscape donations. When Schaefer went to Annapolis, Albright went with him -- as director of the Governor's Office of Art and Culture -- and so did the Artscape money, which was neatly stashed in private accounts controlled by a foundation headed by Albright and long-time Schaefer ally Mark Wasserman -- but inaccessible to the Schmoke administration.

The fund now totals $700,000 to $800,000. Although there is a dispute over how much of that is city money, even those who now refuse to turn over the money concede that the fund was set up for, and should be used for, Artscape only. So the real question is one of control.

Frustrated and angry, Schmoke asked the court to decide the matter. But 18 months after receiving a request for summary judgment, Judge Mabel Houze Hubbard has done absolutely nothing. Now, as if to add insult to injury, Artscape officials have released $80,000 -- one-tenth of the money designated for the event -- to help defray the $350,000 cost this year. This is not only a pittance to a revenue-starved city, it is also patronizing to the Schmoke administration and ultimately, to the people of Baltimore who elected him. It makes no difference now whether Hubbard, Albright or even Schaefer himself take action. The time is long past to turn the Artscape fund over to the city.

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