Arts agencies settle facilities dispute Endowment agrees to reinstate $549,000 grant to Md. council

August 16, 1991|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Evening Sun Staff

The National Endowment for the Arts has lifted the suspension of a $549,000 grant to the Maryland State Arts Council after receiving assurances that the state agency will make its facilities accessible to the handicapped.

As part of the deal cemented yesterday, the arts council will renovate its headquarters to make it more accessible, while it temporarily moves its meetings and literature to a more accessible site -- the headquarters of the Maryland League for the Handicapped.

"We're very pleased and relieved that the difficulties that we had in pursuing our common purposes . . . were so collegially arrived at," said Charles Camp, coordinator of council's accessibility efforts.

The collegiality was a fairly recent development, as the arts council and NEA engaged in an acrimonious slugfest of memos, charges and reports for months before July 30, when the NEA froze the state council's grant.

MCEA's efforts to make its meetings and facilities accessible, including holding public meetings in the Redwood and Legg Mason Towers downtown, did not go far enough, the NEA alleged.

But after a flurry of correspondence and a meeting last Friday in a neutral corner -- the office of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski -- the arts council and NEA hammered out an agreement.

The state agency agreed to renovate its headquarters in a row house at 15 W. Mulberry St.

A ramp and lift will be installed for wheelchair users. The first floor hallway will be widened and the restroom will be altered to accommodate the handicapped. The remodeling project is expected to take approximately 10 weeks, arts council officials said.

In the interim, a sign outside headquarters will direct handicapped citizens to the League for the Handicapped, where all public council meetings will take place and where council literature is already available.

In a letter to council yesterday, John E. Frohnmayer, chairman of the NEA, acknowledged the council's efforts and said the NEA is reinstating the grant.

The NEA says the grant is for $565,000, but the arts council claims the amount is $549,000 -- about seven percent of its $7.8 million annual budget.

No projects were affected by the brief suspension of funds, said council spokeswoman Carol Fox King.

The council's failure to comply with federal regulations came to NEA's attention after Marilyn Phillips, a 47-year-old disability rights activist from Carroll County, complained to NEA.

After an inspection of MSAC headquarters and its public meeting spots, the director of NEA's civil rights division warned last June that if the state agency did not comply with federal codes within 30 days, its grant would be suspended.

The agreement came after the council approached Mikulski and asked to use her office as a neutral forum.

"Instead of memos, phone calls and faxes, everybody was in the same room and everybody could talk to everybody else," said Susan Smith, Mikulski's special projects director.

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