Baltimore foundation shows art's importance

NON-PROFITS INC.

December 07, 1992|By LESTER A. PICKER

The Baltimore arts and cultural community had been buzzin for the past few weeks, anticipating the release of a thoughtful, far-reaching report by the Baltimore Community Foundation.

With considerable pizazz, the foundation made public "Building Community: The Arts & Baltimore Together" at a reception for more than 300 guests at Center Stage last week.

"The Arts & Baltimore" is a report on a study conducted by Ernest L. Boyer, former U.S. commissioner of education, former chancellor of the State University of New York, former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and a board member of several nationally renowned arts organizations.

Eloquently worded, the report holds up a mirror to all of us as a community. It helps us to see just how vital the arts are, if we are to remain a vibrant community.

The Boyer report makes six specific recommendations, in three broad areas: supporting arts and culture in the region's schools; building a stronger network of arts and cultural organizations; and broadening the constituency served by -- and supporting -- the arts.

While the Boyer report will undoubtedly have an impact for years to come, I am more impressed by how the study was set in motion.

"The Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF) is a model for field-of-interest foundations," says Eugene Struckhoff, former president of the Washington-based Council of Foundations and a Baltimore County resident.

"Tim Armbruster [BCF president] has developed a wonderful model for focusing attention on significant community issues. He did this first with the "Baltimore 2000" study, and now with this."

Struckhoff, a consultant to community foundations worldwide, praises Armbruster's technique of identifying critical issues, bringing in the most credible expert available to study the problem, then designing a public information plan that focuses attention on the report's recommendations.

Following on the heels of the recommendations, Armbruster then brings together a coalition of sources to fund seminars, forums and modest grants, all designed to provide a context within which healthy debate, network building and, eventually, solutions can be framed.

"By definition, a community foundation does not have huge financial resources," says Armbruster. "What we can do best is provide a context for issues that affect society and provide modest fiscal incentives to help move the agenda forward."

As an example, BCF has announced a $1 million fund to help move the Boyer report's recommendations off the page and into the streets.

Also by definition, a community foundation's sole interest is to benefit the community, a decidedly good position to be in when it comes to studying critical community problems. If an art museum, for example, had commissioned the Boyer study, any recommendations to boost the arts might appear as self-serving.

There's another side to the BCF, and one which presents itself so seamlessly it might almost be ignored. The BCF does things right. With today's talk about quality management, it is always refreshing to run across an organization that applies a quality touch to all it does. From its well-designed publications, through its professional handling of the Boyer report, to its integrated approach to following up on the recommendations, the BCF sets an example many community foundations would do well to emulate. Above all else, the BCF makes every effort to be accessible to those seeking funds.

(The full Boyer report is available free from the Baltimore Community Foundation at 332-4171).

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md. 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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