Arts groups asked to comply with Disabilities Act Theatre on the Hill threatened, director says

June 11, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Ira Domser thinks Theatre on the Hill is worth much more than $500.

But the troupe he directs may not get that much from the Maryland State Arts Council if Alumni Hall at Western Maryland College does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by May 1, 1994.

A total of $34,979 -- $1,000 for Chamber Music on the Hill and $33,479 for the Carroll County Arts Council -- has been promised to the county for fiscal year 1994, which begins July 1.

"We believe that some of the grantees are not in compliance with the ADA law," Maryland State Arts Council executive director James Backas said yesterday. "A letter is going out to Theatre on the Hill, and a few others, too, that we really want them to come into compliance and encourage them to do so."

Grant recipients were allowed to go through the selection process even if they were not ADA accessible, Mr. Backas said. But if the organization has not submitted acceptable long-range and interim plans by May, the money will be forfeited.

"We don't necessarily want to be punitive, but as a public agency we cannot give money to groups that don't comply with ADA," he said.

The Carroll County Arts Council denied Theatre on the Hill's previous requests for money because it cannot risk losing its own grant by funding an inaccessible facility.

"I feel Mr. Domser runs a quality program and, other than the facility, I don't see any other reason we wouldn't fund it," said Hilary Pierce, the arts council's executive director. "We are looking forward to the day when Western Maryland College has a fully accessible facility, and we will be there to support them when that happens."

The college has plans to make Alumni Hall comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but is waiting for grant money to pay for it, Mr. Domser said. Cost estimates for the project are not available.

Nevertheless, Mr. Domser is unhappy with his portion of the state money. Theatre on the Hill's grant, $1,000 less than last year's, is the smallest the company has ever received. Seventeen of the 232 independent organizations statewide received $500 or less for their projects.

"I'm extremely disappointed," Mr. Domser said. "I've worked very hard to try and get a fair share of the budget, but I've been unable to convince the state that they should provide us with adequate funding.

"It reflects our ability to convince the [Maryland] State Arts Council that we are a significant and viable performing arts organization."

Mr. Domser said the state council's unrealized goal is to provide 10 percent of any Maryland arts organization's operating budget. For Theatre on the Hill, that would be $8,000.

Most of the company's $80,000 budget comes from local businesses, patrons and the college.

"Our biggest source is Western Maryland College, which is giving Theatre on the Hill to the community as a gift," he said.

All state arts grants for individual organizations are based on artistic merit, service to the community, financial stability, administrative ability and strength of planning, Mr. Backas said.

Panels of professionals in the applicants' artistic field attend performances and interview directors for each grant. The group then makes recommendations to a committee, which makes suggestions to the state council. All decisions are made in public sessions in May and June.

"Our panel did not think so," said Mr. Backas of Mr. Domser's feeling his group deserves more money. "We receive hundreds of grant applications, and the majority of people are pleased with what they receive, and a number think they deserve more. It is a natural situation. The demand is always greater than the supply."

Mr. Domser said he feels the council is denying him money because he has asked Del. Richard N. Dixon's help in getting grants, a charge Mr. Backas strongly denied.

"Nonsense," Mr. Backas said. "We have an iron-clad rule that is never broken, that the panels and the council are never told of such things. I deal with that."

As in prior years, Mr. Domser said he fears Theatre on the Hill will not be able to continue.

"This low grant funding does not bode well for the future of Theatre on the Hill and is negative encouragement of the arts in Carroll County," he said. "They are basically telling us to get out of the business."

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