Maryland Arts Day to emphasize jobs

Arts scene

Strategy, training conference in Annapolis

February 02, 2010|By Tim Smith | tim.smith@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

The "jobs, jobs, jobs" mantra in Washington also will be heard next week in Annapolis, but with a slightly different emphasis.

On Feb. 9, the 12th annual Maryland Arts Day, organized by Maryland Citizens for the Arts (MCA) and MCA Foundation, will bring together about 500 people for a daylong session of energizing, strategizing and advocacy training. One message sure to be emphasized is the need, even in the midst of a state budget crunch and a national recession, to keep money flowing to the arts.

"There are about 15,000 arts jobs in the state, including staff and artists," says Doug Mann, MCA's board chair. "We have communicated strongly to the legislators that [arts funding] is a job-related issue from our standpoint."

One recent bit of positive news for arts supporters was contained in the proposed state budget for fiscal year 2011.

"Given the deficit, we're very pleased that the governor funded the Maryland State Arts Council at the same level as this year - $13.3 million," Mann says. "Now we have to make sure that the state legislature doesn't cut it. We have to inform the legislators how important the arts budget is."

Although state grants account for only a portion of an arts organization's annual budget, even modest funding can have a substantial impact.

"A State Arts Council grant is the largest grant that some organizations get," Mann says. "And many organizations are so fragile that if they took a big hit now, if they have to downsize significantly and cut out programs, reduce hours or performances and have fewer exhibits, it would be really hard for them to build back up to where they were. It is a very tough fundraising environment. State Arts Council grants are a stable source of support."

Using public money for the arts invariably bothers some taxpayers and their political representatives.

"Occasionally a delegate or senator will talk to us in a way that indicates they think the arts are not as essential as other things, but that's the exception, not the rule," says Mann, who is the chief financial officer for the Maryland Institute College of Art.

When various cutbacks began to hit Maryland government workers last year, MCA was quick to coordinate a response. The result was an offer of free or lower-cost tickets and other deals for furloughed state employees from dozens of arts groups.

"We're always asking the state for money," Mann says. "This was our way of trying to give something back."

The nonprofit Maryland Citizens for the Arts, founded in 1977, counts more than 200 organizations on its membership roster, along with 24 county arts councils. MCA has an annual budget of about $250,000, derived from membership dues and fundraising, and two full-time employees. The volunteer board includes Baltimore Museum of Art director Doreen Bolger and Walters Art Museum director Gary Vikan.

Among MCA's recent initiatives is "Emerging Arts Advocates," aimed at attracting the under-40 crowd.

"We want to embrace that younger demographic and get them interested in arts advocacy," Mann says. "We've had a terrific response."

With e-mail blasts and old-fashioned letters and postcards (a don't-cut-the-arts message last year showed the "Mona Lisa" missing part of her face), MCA is continually active. One long-term goal of all this advocacy is to get state arts funding up to the point where it can distribute grants equal to 10 percent of a recipient's budget.

"The highest we reached was 9 percent in the late '90s," Mann says. "It has been more like 6 to 9 percent since then. We have stopped thinking about this goal since the recession started. Now we're just trying to avoid cuts."

Maryland Arts Day includes a keynote address by choreographer Liz Lerman, founding artistic director of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange; and the presentation of the Sue Hess Maryland Arts Advocate of the Year Award to Nancy Haragan, founding director of Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. The day's activities also include round-table discussions and break-out sessions on a variety of arts topics, as well as visits with state legislators.

The conference will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Miller Senate Building, 11 Bladen St., Annapolis. Registration is open to the public; the fee is $50, which includes parking (at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with shuttle service), meals and more. For more information, call 410-467-6700 or go to mdarts.org.

Leipzig Quartet in Columbia
The Candlelight Concert Series recently started a complete presentation of the string quartets by Beethoven, spaced out over six concerts during this season and next. The venture hit a little snag with program No. 2, when the Ebène Quartet, scheduled to perform this weekend, had to cancel; one of its players got sick.

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