Analysts advise slashing state arts council budget by $1.15 million


Legislative budget analysts are recommending a $1.15 million cut from next year's Maryland State Arts Council appropriation, which arts officials say would have a "devastating" impact on organizations.

The reductions proposed by the General Assembly's Department of Fiscal Services include $1 million in grants to arts groups and eliminating the folklife program and a program to encourage the renovation of arts facilities.

The cuts, intended to help balance next year's state budget in the face of declining revenues, are in addition to a $125,000 cut in MSAC program funds for fiscal 1992 proposed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and a $350,000 cut in this year's budget, which has been deferred until next year.

The net effect of all the cuts would be a 27 percent reduction in arts council grants to arts organizations, James Backas, MSAC executive director, said yesterday.

"That's a whacking," he told a regularly scheduled board meeting of the MSAC, which has an annual budget of $7.4 million.

"I don't think I've ever seen a year when the agency was so seriously threatened in so many places," he added, referring to the range of recommended cuts.

Mr. Backas said that he had thought the arts council would have to absorb "another $250,000" in cuts because of the state's deteriorating finances but said he "didn't expect over $1 million."

A House appropriations subcommittee has scheduled a hearing today on the arts council's budget.

Arts officials said the DFS proposal, if adopted, would have a dire effect on arts groups.

Patricia Purcell, director of development for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the state's largest arts organization, said the orchestra would receive $867,000 next year if the proposed new cuts were approved, compared to $1.2 million this year.

"It would be devasting," she said. "I don't know what we'd do."

MaryAnn Mears, an artist and board member of Maryland Art Place, said for many smaller groups "there really is a survival issue here."

"Their hold on life is so tenuous, some of them may be put out of business" if cuts of this magnitude are enacted, she said.

Sue Hess, chairwoman of Maryland Citizens for the Arts, said, "I know these are hard times, but this is an inordinately large cut."

The latest round of proposed reductions comes less than a year after the General Assembly approved a $2.4 million increase in MSAC funding, allowing the arts council to fund nearly 10 percent of the annual operating budgets of qualifying organizations.

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