Baltimore City Council threatens to trim $1 million from BOPA as budget hearing looms for arts group

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Baltimore City Councilmembers Odette Ramos and Zeke Cohen appear Thursday to discuss their proposal to increase the Enoch Pratt Library's 2023-24 budget by $1 million, while reducing BOPA's budget by the same amount.

The Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts is slated to appear before the Baltimore City Council Friday evening for what could be a contentious budget hearing as a funding cut threat for the agency looms.

Tensions between the council and the arts group responsible for putting on numerous city festivals escalated Thursday when Councilman Zeke Cohen submitted an amendment that would trim $1 million from BOPA’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget.


The proposal, which Cohen introduced during a news conference with Council Members Odette Ramos and Kristerfer Burnett, would add $1 million to the budget for the Enoch Pratt Free Library and deduct $1 million from BOPA’s allocation. The arts organization is currently slated to receive $2.7 million from the city and a one-time $1.5 million payment from the state to assist with producing Artscape, a marquee city event that is billed as the nation’s largest free public outdoor arts festival.

During the news conference, Cohen said while he supports funding the arts, the council has become “very concerned” that there has been some “real drift within BOPA’s mission.”


”They have not been responsive to our arts community, particularly to Black and brown artists that make this city so vibrant,” Cohen said

He noted that BOPA attempted to trademark the name of “Artscape,” a dispute that was revealed by city attorneys during budget hearings Wednesday.

According to public records, BOPA filed to trademark the name in November 2021. Attorneys representing the city accused BOPA of trying to “misappropriate” the festival. City Solicitor Ebony Thompson told the council Wednesday that the city successfully fought the effort and has since begun the process of trademarking the name for the city.

“Artscape does not belong to BOPA,” Cohen said Thursday. “It belongs to Baltimore.”

If Cohen’s amendment is successful, it would chop a substantial portion of BOPA’s city-funded budget, and roughly 15% of its overall budget, which in recent years has been around $6 million.

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It would also mark the second consecutive year that the council has reduced the group’s budget. Council members cut $196,000 from the organization’s $2.6 million allocation in 2022, citing concerns with how money was spent considering several BOPA-sponsored events were canceled or curtailed.

Ramos, who was outspoken Wednesday about her “shock” to learn of the trademark deal, said Thursday that “BOPA has just not performed.”

The councilwoman said she would support moving BOPA’s entire budget to a new arts office and allowing BOPA to “wind down” its work.


The proposed amendment is the council’s first attempt to exercise a newly established power that allows the group to reallocate money in the budget from one purpose to another. Until now, the 15-member council could only make cuts to the proposed budget and was reliant on the mayor to move the money to other line items, a dynamic that strongly favored the mayor. A charter amendment approved by voters in 2020 established the new power.

More amendments are likely to be proposed. Council members have until Wednesday, June 7, at noon to submit amendments, and the group will have to come to a consensus and vote before an amended budget can be sent back to Mayor Brandon Scott for approval.

Scott’s $4.4 billion budget plan includes $3.5 billion in operating costs and $888 million in capital expenditures. The proposal holds the line on the city’s property tax rate and includes a $79 million boost in education spending mandated by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

Budget hearings resumed Friday morning and BOPA’s hearing is slated for 6 p.m. Hearings will continue through Tuesday. The council has until June 26 to pass a budget, according to the city’s charter.