THE ARTS IN A RECESSION Maryland organizations face uncertain future of personal, corporate giving

It was a holiday season of mixed blessings for Maryland arts organizations.

Just before Christmas, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced it would not undertake a 1992 European tour because it could not raise the necessary $500,000 in corporate underwriting.


Bah, humbug!

A week later, the Baltimore Opera Company announced that it had met a $1 million emergency fund-raising goal, thereby averting bankruptcy.


Happy New Year!

If there is a single meaning behind these seemingly conflicting messages, it would seem to be that, in these troubled economic times, those who support the arts are increasingly selective about how they do so.

"It's much more difficult," Susan Badder, executive director of Maryland Art Place, said of efforts to raise money. "There's not the same attitude there was in the past, when companies would say, 'There's money to give; come ask us for it.' Now, they're saying, 'We're not sure, we don't know yet, get back to us.' "

"We have to wake up and realize that between 1980 and 1990 everyone made a lot of money but that now it's a time of retrenchment," added John I. Kohler II, president of the board of Maryland Ballet. "People want to make sure the money they give is going to be used to the best effect."

The view of arts supporters mirrors that of the potential recipients.

"Everybody's competing for the same dollars," points out Jeff Valentine, deputy director of the Greater Baltimore Committee, a private regional economic development group. "In tough times, and these are tough times, companies don't have the same flexibility to give grants."

As a result of the changing fiscal climate, some arts organizations are beefing up their fund-raising efforts and planning to pinch pennies even more than they usually do, according to several administrators and board members across the state. Still others plan more collaborative efforts to cut costs while maintaining programming and intend to rely more on donations from individuals than corporations. Some are stepping up solicitations of subscribers and members; a special written appeal to opera-goers in October led to an increase in contributions from 500 of the company's regular 1,200 donors, officials say.

Adding to the sense of uncertainty is concern about how the state's increasingly dire financial straits will affect appropriations for fiscal year 1992 to the Maryland State Arts Council, which last year funneled $5.6 million to qualifying organizations. They are holding their collective breath while waiting to see whether Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who will unveil his budget in 10 days, and the General Assembly will hold the line on arts funding. (See accompanying story).


The full effect of the economic downturn on the arts in Maryland may not be apparent until the 1991-92 season, after organizations are able to tally just how much money they were able to raise by the end of the current fiscal year in July and make their projections for the future.

"We had thought we would have to raise this money entirely from corporations," said opera board chairman Lowell Bowen. "A pleasant surprise was the foundations [such as the Abell, Harley W. Howell and Ensign C. Markland Kelly] that came to our rescue. It means they are ready to help out in a desperate situation."

But some arts administrators wonder privately whether foundations will be willing to support the arts on a continuing basis. Still others worry that private givers -- having supported major campaigns, totaling nearly $70 million, by the BSO, Center Stage and the Peabody Institute as well as the opera in the last five years -- will now redirect their resources to such needs as education and housing.

"We're facing not only the prospect of reduced dollars stemming from reduced profits but also from the significant expectation that corporations will be playing a greater role in social services," says Arnold L. Lehman, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Mr. Lehman laments that it "has been more difficult for us to involve the corporate sector in special projects." And while the BMA has not "as yet" had to cancel any planned exhibitions, he says the museum is "taking a close, analytical look" at future projects.

The BMA -- whose $6 million annual operating budget makes it the state's second largest arts organization behind the BSO, which has a $15.5 million budget -- also has hired a deputy director to oversee the museum's fund-raising activities. Elspeth Udvarhelyi, a Baltimore resident who is currently director of development for Washington's Arena Stage, will join the staff July 1. "We think this is essential to the continued financial well-being of the museum," Mr. Lehman says.


Some organizations are already cutting back. The opera, for example, has said it will stage only three productions, rather than four, next season, saving a couple hundred thousand dollars to achieve a break-even budget of around $2 million.

And Maryland Art Place, whose fiscal year began Jan. 1, is cutting its budget 10 percent to $300,000 because, says executive director Badder, "the reality is we're not going to be able to bring as much in." The gallery will achieve the cutbacks by tightening up on office supplies, relying more on volunteer help and leaving an administrative position unfilled until at least the spring.

Also, "Streets of Gold," an exhibit about the immigrant experience that opens Jan. 17, is a collaborative project with alternative art spaces in New York and Richmond, Va. "We're going to have to be much more resourceful in our strategy," Ms. Badder says.

Other groups are just beginning to feel the financial squeeze. Officials at the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra expect corporate sponsorships for its annual Mardi Gras fund-raiser next month to be off about 30 percent -- about $3,000. And at least one of the symphony's corporate sponsors has announced it will not be able to provide its $6,000 gift this year.

The orchestra, whose budget has grown 50 percent to $420,000 this year, had originally set a goal of $40,000 in corporate sponsorship this year; now it is saying it hopes to match the $30,000 raised last year. "It's going to be very difficult this year," says board member David R. Lewis, chairman of the symphony's sustaining fund.

Even among those organizations that have not yet felt the economic downturn, prudence is the watchword. The Maryland Symphony Orchestra in Hagerstown hasn't seen any lessening in corporate support, which provides a third of the orchestra's $576,000 annual budget. But, admits managing director Sandy Wantz, "Everyone's looking over their shoulders a little bit."


Similarly, the Academy of the Arts in Easton, spurred by excitement over new quarters that will be dedicated Jan. 26, is on target for private giving that accounts for 60 percent of the group's $400,000-a-year annual budget, according to executive director Linda Sullivan.

The multidisciplinary group has also raised $1.9 million of the $2.5 million it will need to finish its new facilities, which are 80 percent complete. "We've been very cautious in our approach," says Ms. Sullivan. "We haven't built beyond what we've raised."

And the Handel Choir of Baltimore figures to meet its goal of raising from businesses just over 10 percent of its annual $115,000 operating budget. "It's really not an ambitious goal," concedes executive director Rosemary Faya. "We saw what was happening with the economy and didn't want to set it too high."

And, bad economy or not, the Maryland Ballet plans to begin a $325,000 fund-raising campaign next month -- an amount equal to a year's operating budget. Board president Kohler says the money will give the company some "breathing space" and allow it to accept an anticipated invitation to this year's prestigious Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., which it could not attend last year because of a lack of money.