A gift of art

Our view: In tough times, music, theater, dance and the visual arts offer a boost - and their patrons and supporters can come from all walks of life


November 26, 2008

The financial crisis that's affecting every sector of the economy, from home values to manufacturing to consumer spending, has taken its toll on the arts, too. Theaters, symphony orchestras, opera companies and museums have been hit by a triple whammy of falling box-office revenues, plummeting donations and shrinking endowments as the values of their stock portfolios decline.

The Baltimore Sun's Tim Smith reported recently that some organizations are considering cutting expenses or trimming staff to weather the storm. Others are scrambling to make up for lost grants and donations by deferring maintenance and rethinking production schedules. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which had just gotten back on a firm financial footing after years of debt, saw its endowment drop by nearly 20 percent since August; the Baltimore Museum of Art raised $42 million for its capital campaign but now finds itself facing a $400,000 budget shortfall.

If ever the arts needed patrons, it's now. Yet one doesn't have to be a Morgan or a Rockefeller to make a difference.

There are some very simple ways to help keep the arts in Maryland healthy without breaking the bank. Consider purchasing inexpensive theater or concert tickets as holiday giftsor buy some colorful postcards from a museum shop to send as seasonal greetings. Make a $25 donation to a choral group in a loved one's name, or buy half-price tickets on a whim the evening of a performance.

Every gift or purchase, however modest, helps sustain the institutions that make Maryland a more enjoyable place to live and work and also contribute significantly to the state's economic well-being. The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development estimates the arts had an overall impact of $1.2 billion on the state's economy last year and generated $43 million in taxes while helping support 15,000 full- and part-time jobs.

In tough times like these, the arts should be a source of inspiration, but they can hardly lift our spirits if they're struggling as well. To paraphrase a recent political aphorism, philanthropy can trickle up from the bottom, too. Granted, most people already have their hands full these days. But isn't it just possible that, when it comes to the arts, we can be the ones we've been waiting for?

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