State film commission among arts programs hurt by budget cuts

October 02, 1991|By Eric Siegel

The Maryland Film Commission's efforts to aid local filmmakers and aspiring screenwriters will be curtailed because of newly ordered state budget cuts, which could also affect the agency's ability to attract feature film productions here, its director said yesterday.

The commission -- which has overseen the filming of three dozen movies in the state since 1979 -- lost three of its five staff positions as part of the deep and widespread cuts announced by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. In addition, a Maryland State Arts Council program to provide long-term financial and organizational support to arts groups was slashed by $250,000, or nearly 70 percent, and more than $500,000 in previously withheld MSAC grants to arts groups and county arts councils were eliminated.

Also being eliminated are one of five staff positions in the Governor's Office of Art and Culture and Maryland Magazine, the glossy quarterly paean to the state's lifestyle and cultural and historic attractions.

The cuts affecting the film commission, created to attract major film productions to the state and nurture the local motion picture and video industry, leaves the commission with only a director and a deputy director. Plans call for the agency to be merged with the arts council.

Film commission director Jay Schlossberg-Cohen said the immediate effect of the staff cuts would be to curtail workshops and seminars designed to help area filmmakers and aspiring screenwriters. But he did not discount the possibility that the cuts could hurt efforts by the state, which has been facing increased competition from other jurisdictions seeking film projects, to attract big-budget Hollywood productions here.

"They're going to make a difference, that's pretty obvious," he said of the cuts. "We had five people working at 120 percent and now we have two. I'm hoping [our success in attracting filmmakers] won't completely end."

The 70 percent cut in the MSAC's 3-year-old, $365,000 Arts Advancement Program means no new small and mid-sized groups will receive funds and training this year to implement long-range financial plans considered critical to their survival.

The elimination of $513,000 in MSAC grants to arts groups was not entirely unexpected. The arts council decided last June not to distribute the money, amounting to 10 percent of its grants, in anticipation of further cuts. But the cutback, coming on the heels of a 10 percent cut in arts funding by the legislature last spring, nonetheless caused concern among arts administrators.

"Will this cause curtailment of services? Maybe," said Robert Bergman, director of the Walters Art Gallery, whose share of the cuts amounted to $50,000.

John Gidwitz, executive director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, said the BSO was "very, very worried" about its additional $106,000 cut in state aid.

"What's at issue for us is whether or not we're going to be able to continue what we've started here," he said. "Either you're going to be a serious orchestra, or you cut back and become a less ambitious orchestra with no impact beyond its borders. If we retreat now, I don't know when we'll be able to get back to where we are now."

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