Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday he wants a long-range strategy to ease Baltimore's artistic and cultural institutions off their dependence on city subsidies.
The mayor conceded that cultural groups have been whipsawed in the city's yearly budget wars and said that he will appoint a task force to come up with a plan.
"Hopefully, we can get away from this cycle [of] having the arts institution so reliant on government support," he said at his weekly news briefing.
His announcement followed his last-minute, partial restoration of funding for some recreation and cultural programs that were bracing for painful reductions as this year's budget went into effect.
On Wednesday, the mayor announced he had managed to come up with $3 million that he divided mainly among the 58 recreation centers, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Walters Art Gallery and the Baltimore Museum of Art. The money, which he described as a windfall the city couldn't predict, came from taxes generated by an unusually high volume of home sales this spring.
While pleasing some civic boosters, museum-goers and parent groups, Schmoke's distribution of the surplus among the big-name organizations angered the leaders of smaller cultural groups. As many as 18 galleries, theaters and historical groups will lose subsidies this year because the $2.4 billion city budget includes only half the city's previous $2.03 million commitment to the arts.
"The people who need it the least are getting the help," said Dennis Zembala, executive director of the Baltimore Museum of Industry.
The museum, which had its $56,755 grant halved to $28,378, will be forced to start charging admission to school groups that used get free tours, he warned.
"I don't think that reducing the public funding for organizations like ours is a good idea," he said. "I don't think you can build an institution of any kind without a public-private partnership -- you can't have a zoo; you can't have a library."
The task force will consider a broad range of funding concerns among both the high-profile and special-interest attractions, said Clair Segal, director of the mayor's advisory committee on arts and culture, who is putting together a list of potential members for Schmoke.
"With the budget problems that have been occurring year after year, he's looking for some long-term solutions so the cultural groups are not faced with the same uncertainty," she said.
Many of Baltimore's smaller, eclectic museums and cultural groups have been struggling to determine their future in a civic landscape of increased competition for attention and money.
Last month, Baltimore's City Life Museums, an eight-museum repository of quirky and important Baltimore artifacts, closed.
City's hands tied
While Schmoke has said museum attractions are critical to the tourism industry, he has repeatedly warned that the financially strapped city does not have enough resources to maintain previous levels of funding.
First District Councilwoman Lois A. Garey said yesterday that she wished the mayor had spread the $3 million among the smaller groups.
"It could have gone a lot further and helped a lot more diverse groups," she said.
But she applauded the creation of the task force, saying many of the city-subsidized institutions "are used by other subdivisions as well, and some should be able to come close to being self-sufficient."
Pub Date: 7/11/97