City grants are crucial to arts community

April 04, 2011

We applaud the overall thrust of your March 31 editorial expressing support for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's outcomes-based budgeting strategy ("Rawlings-Blake offers a strategic budget" money spent wisely is critical in these economically challenging times. However, the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance has a bird's-eye view on the overall health of the city's arts and cultural sector, and we must take exception to the characterization of the Creative Baltimore Fund as "an arts grants program that spreads funds too widely to do much good."

In 2010, the Creative Baltimore Fund awarded a total of $40,000 to 20 individual artists, and $200,000 to 76 of the City's most important cultural organizations, from the B & O Railroad Museum, to Wide Angle Youth Media, to CENTERSTAGE. If you were to ask any one of these individuals or organizations if the $1,000 to $5,000 grant they received from the city last year did much good, the answer would be a resounding yes.

Our city's cultural sector strives daily to make Baltimore a better place to live, work and raise a family for all of Baltimore's citizens. Many of the smaller organizations reach underserved neighborhoods that otherwise would not benefit from the richness and diversity of the creative cultural environment that is a signature strength of Baltimore. Grants from the Creative Baltimore Fund made the difference between whether an organization or artist can take a vital education program, involving for example professional actors from Everyman Theatre, into five Baltimore City public schools or just two. That modest investment provides impact and value not just for city school children but also for their parents and teachers.

As we all struggle to make budgets work during this trying time, it is important that we not diminish the value of public funding as a stimulus to cultural engagement. Numerous studies support there is a significant return on every dollar invested in the arts. In 2008, direct expenditures from the arts and cultural community in the region were over $148 million. The $240,000 invested by the city in the Creative Baltimore Fund went a long way. It is vital that we see it return soon.

J. Buck Jabaily and Paul Meecham, Baltimore

The writers are executive director and board president of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance.

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