Privatizing Culture ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

April 19, 1993

One of the side effects of Anne Arundel County's financial squeeze is that the government is privatizing functions it no longer deems essential.

It is a change that might have come eventually, but economic rough times are making it happen abruptly. Thus, the Anne Arundel County Commission on Culture and the Arts is being phased out by July. Many of its functions will be assumed by a private, non-profit organization called the Cultural Arts Foundation.

"I think this is the wave of the future," says George Shenk Jr., an Annapolis printing company executive who has made it his personal mission to see that the private foundation gets off to an orderly start.

We welcome the new foundation, which is introducing itself to dozens of arts and culture groups throughout the county. Its 30 trustees represent many of these groups and will plan the foundation's first fund-raising drive this autumn.

But it is not enough for the various arts groups and their supporters to get behind the new foundation. The county, too, has to make a strong statement that leaves no doubt that culture is still seen as a vital ingredient of good life, even if the government no longer can bankroll it. Such a statement might best be made through a grant to help the private foundation off to a solid beginning.

It is generally assumed that many of the existing culture stipends, currently totaling $421,500, will be axed when County Executive Robert R. Neall unveils his spending plan for fiscal year 1994 next month. However, it would be a terrible mistake for the county executive and the County Council not to give the new foundation an operating appropriation during this crucial transition period. How can the foundation hope to succeed in its dauntingly ambitious mission if it does not have money to get organized?

It is understandable that at a time of major layoffs and cutbacks, human concerns are paramount in the minds of decision-makers. But while the arts and culture may not get roads paved or trash collected, they are just as important.

The arts and culture have involved thousands of residents in volunteer activities, and are an integral part of education for adults and children. Moreover, they have made Anne Arundel the very livable county it is today.

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