The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra wants to convince the Baltimore County Council to reconsider a heavy cut proposed in the county's contribution to the symphony for the coming year. If the local band wants to help its case, it might consider a name change: How about the Baltimore County-Baltimore Symphony Orchestra?
The orchestra has done everything short of that to court Baltimore countians, and apparently has wooed them well. County residents already comprise the BSO's largest group of subscribers: 42 percent compared to just 35 percent coming from Baltimore City. Since the mid-'70s, the orchestra has used Oregon Ridge Park in the county as its summer home. And, the troupe also performs "tiny tots" shows at Goucher College in Towson to introduce music to pre-schoolers.
Still, some people in county government see it as "the city band." In fairness, the arts funding issue presents difficult choices. Money, of course, is tight. The county's Arts and Sciences Commission had to split up $976,000 for next year, 27 percent less than this year, and it did propose slight increases for a few other city-based attractions, such as the Walters Art Gallery, the Baltimore Zoo and the Baltimore Opera Company.
In recent years, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has received an increasingly larger share of county arts cash because the previous administration wanted to put its money where its mouth was on improving regionalism. It figured the BSO grant was a good place to start due to the symphony's solid county constituency. Now, the county simply has less seed to spread. The proposed reduction for the BSO is a whopping 55 percent, from $490,000 to $222,2778. The organization, which this year received a third of all county arts money, is being asked to take 5/6ths of the total arts cut.
Such a drastic change in the BSO contribution is letting Baltimore City play sugar daddy to the county's residents. It's cultural welfare for the suburbs.
The value of the symphony, its inspiration to community-based troupes, its help to student musicians, its role as an economic draw is as real as the impact of the Orioles. County Executive Roger B. Hayden was criticized by some last winter for forcing out Lois Baldwin, who helped the county disseminate its arts money. But his shift of her duties to the county's economic
development commission is testament to the fact that the arts, and certainly the BSO, are economic tools.
A county that's looking to a sister city in Wales for economic gain can't afford to turn a deaf ear to the music coming its way from next door.