Artscape Held Hostage

April 12, 1991

If Circuit Court Judge Mabel Houze Hubbard takes any longer in ruling on the fate of over $700,000 in Artscape money, she might end up in the "Guinness Book of World Records" as the champion judicial procrastinator.

Two years have already passed since Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke asked the judge to order an ostensibly private foundation to hand the money back to the city. Despite all this time, the judge has failed to take any action. The inaction is "a good example of justice delayed is justice denied," says Mr. Schmoke. We agree.

The squabble over the Artscape money involves personalities as well as politics.

Artscape and the organization sponsoring it were set up a decade ago by Jody Albright, who directed the office on art and culture during William Donald Schaefer's tenure as mayor.

When Mr. Schaefer became governor, Mrs. Albright shifted to Annapolis as an aide. Along went the Artscape funds, which had been raised from private donations. She argued that her organization had all along been a private endowment, when in fact it was part of Mr. Schaefer's empire of quasi-governmental city organizations. It worked in municipal office space, used city stationery and accepted an annual city subsidy of $170,000.

Considering this cut-and-dry background, Judge Hubbard's inability to deliver summary judgment is extraordinarily puzzling.

Artscape, which will have its tenth anniversary July 19-21, was part of Baltimore's dynamic urban renaissance in the 1970s and 1980s. Though the City Fair has lost its original vigor and vision, Artscape remains the one free city celebration of summer that brings out hundreds of thousands of people to its Mount Royal Avenue site.

Mrs. Albright's organization has now given an $80,000 grant to this year's Artscape. That is a step forward but not enough. This unnecessary and divisive squabble will end only when she returns all the Artscape funds to the city.

We suggest that the city file another grant application, asking for the total fund balance of Mrs. Albright's money. That way her foundation can act on the request and get the whole mess over with.

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