Citing public pressure, Schmoke rejects plan to cut arts funding Mayor says suburbs must pay their share.

March 12, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, bowing to pressure from arts patrons throughout the region, has rejected a proposal to phase out city support for Baltimore's art and cultural institutions.

Mr. Schmoke and other city officials had received at least 1,500 letters and post cards asking that the city reject a proposal to cut off more than $10 million a year in funding for the museums and other cultural institutions in Baltimore.

But Mr. Schmoke said that while the financially strapped city would continue to provide financial support for the arts, it may prove to be inadequate.

"I was both pleased and disappointed by the letters that we received regarding city support for the arts," Mr. Schmoke wrote in a letter to the directors of the major art institutions in Baltimore.

"It pleased me to see the large constituency that these institutions have . . . however, I was surprised that many of the letters failed to appreciate the financial circumstances that led [to the] . . . issue in the first place."

The mayor said that a new strategy has to be formulated for funding the city's cultural institutions, drawing more support from the surrounding suburbs.

The proposal to cut off the funding had surfaced last month in a report by the Organizational Review Team, a group of Mr. Schmoke's Cabinet members who were looking for ways to streamline city government in the face of flat revenues and a shrinking and increasingly poor city population.

"Everybody in the cultural community is pleased that the mayor doesn't want to phase out funding for the culturals," Jane Vallery-Davis, director of development and public relations for the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture, said yesterday.

"I'm extremely gratified by the mayor's recognition of the importance of all of our cultural institutions in the life of our city," said Robert P. Bergman, director of the Walters Art Gallery. "The mayor was quite clear in inviting the reaction of the community to be part of his deliberation concerning the recommendation. I think it is fair to say that he received the reaction he sought."

Post cards opposing the recommendation were made available to patrons at the front doors of several of the cultural institutions around town. And the cards poured into City Hall, along with letters and faxes urging the mayor to turn aside the recommendation.

"We were concerned that not everyone was informed about this," Mr. Bergman said. "We made sure that the members of the Walters and others knew about it. We gave people post cards so they could express their feelings."

City Planning Director Ernest Freeman, who is heading the effort to gather public response to the reorganization plan, said the majority of the correspondence received by his office addressed the proposal to end city funding for art and culture.

"The consensus is that it would not be a prudent thing to do," Mr. Freeman said.

In his letter, Mr. Schmoke said he shared the view that cultural institutions were vital to the city.

But he called for a new funding strategy that would rely more heavily on support from suburban counties, the private sector and the state.

"Without a partnership involving all of these entities, uncertainty will cloud the future of our art and cultural institutions," Mr. Schmoke said.

Currently, the city provides the lion's share of government funding for many of the cultural institutions in the city, although they are largely patronized by people from Baltimore's suburbs. The state and private contributors also provide substantial support, but efforts to generate major financial help from suburban counties have mostly been unsuccessful.

"Certainly, the mayor must have had in mind not only to seek forthright statements of support in the community but also to dramatize the fact that our cultural communities depend on a coalition of support," Mr. Bergman said.

"I think this is a plea from the city, the cultural heart of our region, to the people in the rest of the community to provide support to institutions from which they benefit immeasurably."

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