Common interest in the arts

June 29, 1995

Someone who lives in the suburbs, works in the suburbs, shops in the suburbs may not feel much connection to or stake in Baltimore city. Even though study after study has shown a relationship between the health of the urban core and the outlying areas, the illusion of many suburbanites' lives -- and that includes two of every three people who live in the Baltimore vTC region now -- is that the city is inconsequential to them.

In economic and cultural terms, proving the linkage may be complex. In one area, however, the bond is simple, direct and undeniable: Tourism and culture. Suburbanites are heavy users of the city-based museums, theaters and other attractions.

Residents of the five-county metro area enjoy taking out-of-town guests to the National Aquarium, the Baltimore Zoo, the Walters, to name a few. And when the suburban jurisdictions shop for new business, they all tout the cultural amenities in Baltimore as part of their "quality of life."

However, when it's time to fund these attractions beyond individual admissions and membership dues, too many suburban leaders shirk any obligation. Why should we pay for Baltimore's museums?, they scoff. Because they're not just Baltimore's museums. They contribute to and are enjoyed by residents throughout this area.

In 1990, suburban leaders had agreed to work toward contributing .3 percent of their operating budgets toward the arts, about twice what most were contributing at the time. Then, the recession hit and arts funding went south.

For example, Anne Arundel County next year is contributing half of what it did this year, despite County Executive John Gary's assurances last fall that he possessed a greater appreciation for the city than his isolationist campaign rhetoric suggested.

Howard County is contributing $100,000 next year, still way below its peak of $120,000 five years ago. Carroll County, the only jurisdiction to meet the pre-recession funding goal for a time, has fallen backward too, meting out a paltry total of $2,500 to four city sites next year. Baltimore County's share has been virtually flat for three years.

Just as regional thinking has begun taking root for economic development, the Baltimore Metro Council should re-adopt the crusade of arts funding as another area of undeniably shared interests. As much as residents of this area enjoy and are enriched by these regional gems, it should be an easier political sell than it has been made out to be.

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