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Kamenetz, arts groups urge Balto. Co. residents to frequent city

Baltimore County residents are being urged to check out all the cultural attractions "just down the road" in Baltimore City, where attendance dropped after the April riots and has been slow to rebound.

During a media event Friday at the Hippodrome, which featured a parade of representatives from Baltimore arts groups during the singing of "My Favorite Things," County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said county residents made more than 687,000 visits to Baltimore's arts and cultural attractions in 2014.

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"Baltimore County has a strong history of supporting arts and culture activities that just happen to be located in the city," Kamenetz said.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake welcomed that support from Kamenetz, calling him "my partner in progress."

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"At their best, the arts help us move forward," Rawlings-Blake said.

Though no funds are allocated for this campaign, Baltimore County provided $2.8 million in grants for fiscal year 2016 to about 40 arts and sciences organizations in the city, including $680,000 for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; $400,000 for the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore; $336,000 each for the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum; $170,000 for the National Aquarium; and $129,500 for Center Stage.

"In conversation with many recipients, they relayed to me the challenges they have been having with attendance since last April," Kamenetz said. "Not as many people are coming. There are too many empty seats. And that is having an impact on restaurants and stores as well. This [campaign] is meant to bring more visibility to that problem."

Kamenetz unveiled a logo with the message "Baltimore Arts: Just down the road," as well as a new page on Baltimore County's tourism website aimed at showcasing opportunities for cultural experiences in the city.

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"Anything that promotes the city is valuable," said Baltimore Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Paul Meecham. "A lot of our audience comes from outside the city. We definitely saw a drop-off in attendance. The riots occurred when we were right in the middle of our subscription renewal drive, and we unfortunately fell behind where we expected to be."

The downturn in attendance is reflected in a poll taken this fall by the University of Baltimore. As reported earlier in The Baltimore Sun, about one-fifth of Maryland residents outside of Baltimore told pollsters that they expected to visit the city's restaurants, tourist attractions and cultural venues less frequently than they had in the past 12 months. About 10 percent of Baltimore City residents said the same.

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