Culture wars Local poll aside, contributions to the arts is money well spent.

November 06, 1995

A RECENT POLL conducted by Anne Arundel Community College shows that the overwhelming majority of local residents either doesn't know cultural arts exist in this area or think they are a waste of public money. So one has to wonder about last week's ground-breaking for an $8.2 million fine arts center at the Arnold-based community college, to be paid for entirely with state and local funds. Why are we building it when so few think the arts important and at the expense of so many other needs?

In America, unlike Europe, the arts and humanities historically have been treated as frills rather than as a necessary part of our civilization and history which ought to be preserved and made available to each citizen. Even in boom times, public support for the arts has been minuscule. Currently, the U.S. spends less than one-twentieth of 1 percent of the national budget on culture, according to Robert Hughes, who recently wrote an impassioned defense of federal arts funding for Time magazine. Local commitment to the arts is equally shallow; this year, Anne Arundel will spend a paltry $360,000 to support local and regional institutions, such as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, compared to $900 million for police, schools, libraries and public utilities.

Granted, money is tight and priorities must be set. But the arts can't be shoved much lower on the priority list without eliminating funding for them entirely. That is what the conservative leadership in Washington wants, and, if the AACC poll is an indication, a lot of local voters, too. This doesn't make government abandonment of art and culture less wrong. From Maryland Hall in Annapolis to the Lincoln Memorial, the arts uplift, enrich and inspire. A citizenry that worries about moral decay, about a world awash in Beavis and Butt-head, should not oppose a fraction of taxes going to keep alive quality literature, dance, television and museums.

As far as the new fine arts building is concerned, it will be a part of the college, where the overwhelming majority of the county's college-bound students end up. This is educational as well as cultural funding -- an investment that will provide a place for recitals, performances and other events to be enjoyed by residents for years to come. That can't be considered a waste, by any definition.

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