The recession and the arts

December 20, 2009|By Tim Smith

The faltering economy hit Baltimore's arts community hard this year. The cruelest blow came in May, when the Baltimore Opera Company was liquidated, right down to sets and costumes in storage and posters on office walls. Various factions of board, staff and patrons should have come together to find a way to save the historic company, but the odds were formidable.

Drops in attendance, contributions and endowment fund values (for those fortunate enough to have endowments) caused many organizations to face staff reductions, pay cuts and furloughs, postponed or canceled events. At the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, musicians gave back 12.5 percent in salaries and benefits. The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra suspended operations in January to regroup for the fall. Theater companies felt the pinch in various ways, and a budget shortfall at the Maryland Historical Society led to layoffs and curtailed hours of operation.

The Walters Art Museum's cost-cutting included scrapping a collaborative exhibition with the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and the Getty in Los Angeles. Still, the free admission policy at the Walters held firm, as it did at the Baltimore Museum of Art, positive signs in the midst of gloom. And even though the finality of Baltimore Opera's demise in 2009 still casts a pall as 2010 nears, the new year is starting to look a lot better for the health of local culture than the last.

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