Ending the Artscape Folly

April 27, 1993

Isn't it amazing how the real world works?

For four years, William Donald Schaefer's former City Hall aides engaged in a mean-spirited fight with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke over his attempts to take control of funds donated to Artscape, Baltimore's annual arts happening. But the day before Governor Schaefer was to testify in the case, under a city subpoena, the trial was halted and the matter suddenly was settled out of court.

The settlement is hardly ideal. Under its terms, the city is to receive 40 percent of the $666,513 that was raised years ago for the summer event. The former City Hall aides will retain control of the rest. That money presumably will be used for Artscape -- eventually -- but the consent degree does not specify when. In lengthy paragraphs of legalese, the document bars the warring parties from suing one another and further complicating or prolonging their nasty dispute.

That such strictures were needed was proven shortly after the settlement. Unwilling to let the matters rest, the former Schaefer City Hall aides' lawyer issued a broadside accusing the city of settling the case "because it could not prove its claims in court." The statement further called the city's claims "baseless," "wasteful" and "frivolous."

This kind of totally unnecessary attack is in keeping with the attitude exhibited throughout the case by Jody Albright, the former city Artscape director who is now Governor Schaefer's arts adviser, and her group's attorney, William A. McDaniel. Had Mrs. Albright acted in a reasonable fashion from the start, this whole sordid matter would have been settled amicably a long time ago. But for reasons only known to her, she chose to turn the Artscape case into a bizarre personal vendetta.

Mrs. Albright deserves much credit for her tireless efforts in making many difficult but important cultural initiatives happen in Baltimore City during Mr. Schaefer's mayoral terms. Without her, Artscape perhaps never would have gotten off the ground. Yet many original Artscape donors contributed to the festival not because Mrs. Albright was doing the fund-raising but because they thought it was a city event and wanted to curry favor with Mr. Schaefer's City Hall.

All this is now past history -- as it should be. Artscape still thrives, bringing joy and inspiration to hundreds of thousands of people each year. It flowers because it was no one individual's idea but a concept that brought into fruition the whole community's artistic creativeness.

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