Plan for disabled-access restores NEA funds to arts group Md. State Arts Council to redo its headquarters

August 17, 1991|By Eric Siegel ^

The National Endowment for the Arts has restored $549,000 in grants to the Maryland State Arts Council after the MSAC promised to make its headquarters accessible to the handicapped within approximately 10 weeks.

While the renovations are being made, printed information about the arts council's programs will be made available at the League for the Handicapped, 1111 E. Coldspring Lane, where the

council will hold its September meeting, said MSAC spokeswoman Carol Fox King.

The NEA suspended the funds two weeks ago, rejecting the state agency's renovation plan because it lacked both a timetable for the work and provisions for handicapped access during the interim. The cutoff came one month after the endowment warned the council that it was in violation of regulations prohibiting discrimination against the disabled in programs that receive federal funds.

Maryland's arts council has an annual budget of $7.8 million, most of which comes from the state. It provides grants to arts organizations, local arts councils and individual artists, none of which had been affected by the NEA suspension.

Under the agreement, the state agency will install wheelchair lifts and ramps and widen the first-floor hallway and restroom at its headquarters at 15 W. Mulberry St. The renovations are expected to cost about $20,000, which will come out of the organization's administrative budget, Ms. King said.

The NEA also had said that two other downtown meeting sites used by the arts council were insufficiently accessible. Those locations, the Redwood Tower and the Maryland Communications Conference Center in Legg Mason Tower, will no longer be used.

Marilynn Phillips, a disability-rights activist from Carroll County whose complaint last year led to the federal suspension, said that she was "grateful" for the agreement, but noted that "this is not just about one building. What about [arts or ganizations] that are not accessible that receive state funds?"

State arts officials have acknowledged that some smaller arts groups housed in historic buildings or rural areas are not handicapped-accessible. But the state has thus far chosen to provide technical assistance to help remedy such problems rather than withhold funds.

NEA Chairman John E. Frohnmayer expressed "delight" with the arts council's actions, adding, "Suspensions such as this one are taken with great reluctance. I'm glad it was a short one."

He also expressed gratitude to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., in whose office representatives of the two agencies met Aug. 9 to work on the agreement.

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