Child's Play at the Cloisters?

April 17, 1992

If the Cloisters Children's Museum were to set up new exhibits for its young visitors to reflect the state of cultural support by the suburbs, it might include:

* A toy cash register -- with no toy money.

* A "sharing center," only that the county children get to share the city tots' toys, and not vice versa.

* A "building block corner," where city kids could ask permission to erect little towers -- and county kids could deny them.

That might educate kids about the abysmal level of support for Baltimore museums by county governments. It would help explain why the city recently appealed to Baltimore County to re-zone 30 acres near the city-owned Cloisters Museum, which happens to sit in the county. The city wants commercial re-zoning there so it can sell or lease the land for offices or a conference center to provide revenue for the museum. The 1930s Tudor-style castle that houses the museum needs roughly $2 million worth of maintenance.

Although the county council will make a final determination next fall, county planners have preliminarily shot down the city's proposal -- for good reason. Scarring the wooded hillside on which the Cloisters majestically perches seems a pound-foolish way to raise money.

The museum, one of the prime cultural attractions for the Sesame Street set and their parents in this area, gets high traffic from suburban families, but puny support from their local governments. In the current fiscal year, Baltimore City government contributed $75,000 to the Cloisters. Baltimore County, the lone suburban jurisdiction to contribute -- and the prime beneficiary -- gave an insultingly low $10,000.

The score is even more embarrassing for the suburbs in terms of total government contributions to the region's culture hot spots. Baltimore City contributes about $18 per resident. Harford County, just 41 cents per person. The five metropolitan counties combined spend less than $2 per capita toward the museums, according to a report last fall by the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments.

Building a corporate park beside the Cloisters might not make sense, but neither does letting the counties play in the romper room without bringing some of their own toys. Isn't it time the counties really started sharing the financial burdens for this region's cultural activities instead of always acting like spoiled children?

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