Community and the Arts

December 01, 1992

"How does a community blessed with a rich and varied cultural tradition sustain it through troubled economic times?" That is the question that opens "Building Community: The Arts and Baltimore Together," a thought-provoking report unveiled yesterday by the Baltimore Community Foundation.

The foundation's answer lies in a renewed commitment to the arts by city and state leaders -- not only to protect the city's cultural legacy by strengthening older arts institutions and encouraging new ones, but as a way of overcoming the racial and economic divisions that threaten Baltimore's future as a vibrant place to live and work.

"Metropolitan Baltimore is now standing at a crossroads," writes Ernest L. Boyer, former president of the Carnegie Foundation. "The pain of the current recession has placed the city's future considerably at risk. . . This region, like so many other great metropolitan centers in the country, is being asked to do so much more with less, and in such a climate the arts are especially vulnerable. They risk being pushed to the edges of society, undervalued and under-funded, viewed as a luxury that simply cannot be sustained in times of stress."

Mr. Boyer explains why the arts are no mere "luxury," but an indispensable element of a healthy metropolis. "Today, across the country, social and racial and economic separations are disturbingly apparent," he writes. "And what is at risk in this diminished sense of community is not just our cities, but our sense of nationhood as well. It is the central theme of this report that the spirit of community can be sustained most vitally through the universal language of the arts. . . The arts not only enrich a community, they are community."

The foundation's recommendations are a mixture of the pragmatic and the visionary. In addition to calling on Baltimore area officials to affirm the arts as vital to community health, they call on area schools to strength arts education and urge increased public and private financial support. The foundation also seeks greater coordination between area arts groups and more effective outreach programs to reflect cultural diversity.

This is an ambitious agenda, as much for the sweep of its proposals as for the vision underlying it. It is a program that deserves the support of all who care about the future of the Baltimore region.

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