Cultural Burden-sharing

March 22, 1992

The suggestion by a Baltimore City task force that the city stop financing cultural institutions has wisely been rejected by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. But the issue raised by his advisers is not so easily dismissed. A city that struggles to provide its citizens with essential services must review its priorities. Yet a city without music and museums is no city at all.

The avalanche of mail that convinced the mayor undoubtedly came from culture-lovers throughout the metropolitan area, if not the entire state. As it should. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Walters Art Gallery and the Baltimore Museum of Art are heavily patronized by people who live outside the city. Many of them contribute personally to the support of these cultural institutions. But public institutions survive on public funds, and shamefully little of that reaches these institutions from outside the city.

We have a modest proposal for the mayor to consider. If neighboring county governments are unwilling to share the burden of supporting cultural excellence for the whole region, Mr. Schmoke could make sure suburban patrons do. He could impose higher entrance fees on museum visitors from outside the city. Those who donate annually would continue to have free admission. Outrageous? No more so than, for example, Anne Arundel County's current policy of charging nonresidents higher fees for use of county parks.

Certainly the proposal raises a number of practical problems. Yet one way or another there must be cultural burden-sharing in the metropolitan area. Discriminating among residents of different jurisdictions would be a bad way to do it. But if the mayor is forced to act unilaterally, his options are severely limited. Selective entrance fees might be unavoidable.

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