The arts and the spirit of community

December 01, 1992

In "Building Community: The Arts and Baltimore Together," a report released yesterday by the Baltimore Community Foundation, author Ernest L. Boyer calls on area officials to reaffirm the importance of the arts to the future of the Baltimore region. "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," he writes. "The arts not only enrich a community, they are community." (Excerpts from the report are printed on the page opposite.) This sweeping vision comes at a time when Baltimore's cultural institutions have been hard hit by recession. In the hierarchy of needs, public officials are accustomed to giving the arts a lower priority than services like education and housing. Similarly, school systems traditionally have regarded the arts as a luxury to be indulged in, if at all, only after more pressing requirements have been met.

But as Mr. Boyer so eloquently argues, the arts are no mere "frill" but a fundamental element of the Baltimore region's identity. They are also integral to the education process and to the healthy development of young minds and spirits. A community that allows its arts education and cultural institutions to languish will eventually find its economic future imperiled and its people impoverished.

The foundation's report attempts to systematically address this dilemma. In addition to calling on area public officials to affirm the arts as vital to community health, it urges increased public and private financial support for local arts institutions and stresses the need for greater coordination among area arts organizations. It also calls for more effective arts outreach programs to reflect the cultural diversity of the region and suggests that arts institutions make "building community" a major theme of the 1990s. To encourage implementation of these recommendations, the foundation has launched a $1 million art and cultural initiative to "stimulate efforts to broaden and strengthen the region's cultural organizations."

By far the foundation's most ambitious recommendation involves strengthening arts education in area schools. The report cites Baltimore's School for the Arts as a model institution in bringing the arts and traditional academic subjects together in a way that allows students to explore their potential to the full. Most schools could benefit in some way from ideas and methods developed there. The challenge now is to make such successes available to every student in the Baltimore region.

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