The arts center


Check the web site for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and you'll see an array of performances on the boards for this weekend alone that would make for a wonderful summer season in Harford County.

Tickets for performances range from $18 for the hour-long family play "The Wings of Ikarus Jackson," to $130 for a box seat for a performance of "La Cage Aux Folles." The demand for what might be characterized as high art is substantial in this area, and the general success of the Kennedy Center is a testament to how successful a major high-end arts venue can be.

Scale down, and the success of organizations like the Havre de Grace Arts Commission has long been evident. Havre de Grace has been treated to single performer shows depicting historic figures in the arts, as well as shows featuring the likes of Shakespeare in the Park, musical ensembles from various military branches, among others. Similarly, at the Amoss Center for the Performing Arts in Campus Hills, Harford Community College (which manages the Amoss Center) has met with success bringing national and regional performing companies to Harford County.

Clearly, there's a demand regionally and locally for performances that go beyond community theater (though Harford County's community theater community is nothing to dismiss).

There remains, however, reason to be a bit wary of the way plans for a proposed Center for the Arts have been unfolding.

Lately, the organization putting the proposal for the center together has acquired, with the support of the county government, land in the Route 24 Corridor that is ideally situated for such an operation, being convenient to Harford County's population center as well as I-95. More recently, center organizers and the county government entered into a memorandum of understanding whereby the county would provide up to a third of the money needed, as well as secure money from other sources.

Curiously missing in all this are a few key details, the main one being an estimate, however rough, of what the envisioned cost of a new arts center would be. It's one thing, after all, for the county to commit to paying a third of the cost for an arts center that would be comparable to a free-standing Amoss Center with a few extra amenities. It would be quite another for the county to tackle a third of the cost of something approaching the Kennedy Center or even the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.

Also largely overlooked in the discussions to date is the reality that the county does have the Amoss Center, which already delivers on some of what the Center for the Arts is envisioned to bring to Harford County. Would the two operations compete, with one gaining at the other's expense? Considering public money is key to both ventures, this would seem to be something of a duplication.

Bringing the arts to Harford County is an important and vital goal, and the Center for the Arts organization proposing this new venture in Abingdon has taken on a noble task. The organization also has accomplished quite a bit insofar as the acquisition of a key piece of land will make all the difference in getting something built. Now may well be a fine time to embark on such a project as a major construction venture has the potential to enliven the local construction business.

But before much more in the way of taxpayer backed financing is committed to the project, a financial picture of the costs of building the center and operating it each year needs to be more fully disclosed. Certainly, the sentiment expressed any number of ways by John F. Kennedy and others before him that civilizations are remembered more for their art than most other accomplishments is one worth keeping in mind. It's also worth keeping in mind, however, that certain high accomplishments in world culture, for example the Palace at Versailles, though beautiful, came at costs that were, in retrospect, too high.

We could all do with a little art and culture in our lives, but we should indulge in it only to the degree that we can afford it.

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