Local arts organizations may face losing grants Arundel to decide on budget cuts

November 15, 1992|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County arts organizations, already dealing with lean, recession-era budgets, are facing severely curtailed government funding as the result of state budget cuts and the recently passed cap on the county's property tax revenues.

County Executive Robert R. Neall said last week that he has not decided where he will cut the budget, or what programs will get the ax. But it is almost certain that the arts grants, $421,500 worth of non-essential services in the current county budget, will be the first to go.

Grants of $134,000 to local arts groups and $76,250 to regional organizations -- such as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra or the National Aquarium -- already were on a list of tentative budget cuts when the county learned it would lose $15 million in state aid this year.

"I'm always sorry that the arts are the first to be cut and the last to be funded," said Michael Bailey, executive director of the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. "That luxury is the first to go."

The prospect is that some arts groups not only may lose funding in next year's budget, but they also could lose half of this year's grants, money that many groups had included in their budgets.

The heads of local arts organizations said that the lack of government grant money could force them to cut some programs, mostly dealing with outreach to community groups and schools. Ultimately, it will force them to turn to private sources, individuals and corporations, for money.

"It would be difficult because we don't have much to cut. There's no fat in the budget," said Patricia Edwards, executive director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, which received half of a $17,000 grant from the county last month. "But it would not be a disaster. We just couldn't do as much as we do now."

"It would have a pretty severe effect for Historic Annapolis because we've been lucky to receive a substantial grant from the county," said Ann Fligsten, president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, which has received $25,000 so far.

But many organizations saw the writing on the wall and have been moving away from depending on local government money and toward private funding. Ms. Edwards said 70 percent of subscribers to the Annapolis Symphony donate additional money above the cost of their tickets.

Deborah Harris, general manager of the Ballet Theatre of Annapolis, said that the $19,000 that her group is projected to receive from the county represents only 15 percent of its total budget. Mr. Bailey, of Maryland Hall, said the $70,000 grant he will receive makes up only about 8 percent of his budget.

"We anticipated that government funding would be reduced, so we're trying to make that up in other ways," Ms. Harris said. In addition to increased corporate sponsorship, the ballet company trying to increase its sustaining membership. "So we haven't been like ostriches with our heads in the sand."

In fact, a move toward privatization of the arts in the county had been in the works for two years and is due to culminate in July when the county's Commission on Culture and the Arts is transformed into the private Cultural Arts Foundation of Anne Arundel County.

"I think any non-profit, to be viable in the future, is going to have to rely upon their constituency, the people who believe in what they're doing," said George Shenk Jr., an arts commission member who chaired the panel studying the creation of the new non-profit foundation.

Moving funding of the arts from the county to a non-profit foundation fits in with Mr. Neall's philosophy of privatization, or transferring certain functions now performed by government to the private sector, which can do them more efficiently.

"It is a very practical mechanism to involve the private sector in what has been a burden carried only by the public sector in the past," Mr. Shenk said. The county will continue to funnel whatever grant money it can provide -- Mr. Shenk said organizations will seek the same amount of money in the next budget -- and the foundation will aggressively pursue corporate money to double the fund.

But the group may encounter corporations suffering from a stagnant economy reluctant to increase grants to community organizations.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. currently contributes $4 million to various community groups in its service area, of which about 20 percent goes for arts and cultural organizations. The utility has no plans to increase contributions. "If our income and revenue aren't going up, we can't justify an increase in contributions," said Peggy Mulloy, a BG&E spokeswoman.

Although private money may lead to more stability for arts groups, Mr. Bailey said that there also is a built-in pitfall. Fund-raisers will be forced to do what any other market-driven entity does, "which is to go where the money is," he said.

The result could be that only narrow, special interests will be served, and arts and culture could become too elitist. "It's the hand of government that keeps [the arts] egalitarian," Mr. Bailey said.

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