The Howard County government will no longer be in charge of handing out more than $100,000 in grants-in-aid to area art organizations andmuseums.
Following the recommendations of a 12-member task force,County Executive Charles I. Ecker agreed last week to consolidate the arts grant process into the Howard County Arts Council, an independent group that receives county money.
In the past, the county's Citizen Services Department processed grant requests from such applicants as the Baltimore Zoo, the Baltimore Symphony, the Maryland Science Center and Center Stage. The county and other local governments help pay for the Baltimore-based attractions because many county residents visit the spots.
The arts council will review the applications and determine how the money is distributed.
The task force, which met last year, studied ways to improvethe county's grants-in-aid process. While having the arts council review the applications will save paper work, it also makes sense for art specialists to make decisions regarding art and culture, and humanservices specialists to make decisions on other programs, said ManusO'Donnell, Citizen Services Department director.
The Citizen Services Department handles funding for such groups as Urban Rural Transportation, Grassroots Crisis Intervention and the Sexual Assault Center.
"People can focus more on specialized areas, and I think that'swhere the efficiency comes in," O'Donnell said.
"We're really thrilled," said Mary Toth, the arts council's executive director. "In a year when the arts have been under a lot of pressure financially, we're extremely grateful to Charles Ecker for reaffirmation."
Under the new plan, the arts council will continue to make awards for local grants but also will present recommendations for regional grants to the county executive. The arts council will establish funding priorities for each program, targeting areas of greatest need.
A nine-member Artistic Review Panel -- including local art professors, dancers and painters -- will evaluate applications.
"We're very pleased," Toth said. "We felt we were ready to take on the responsibility. The arts council has come of age."
The arts council is an independent organization that receives more than $500,000 a year from the county government for local art projects and programs, including the ColumbiaFestival of the Arts, the Howard County Center for the Arts and artist-in-residency programs at public schools.
Toth sees no changes for the application process, saying the same forms will be used in thetransitional period. Decisions will be made in March.