Arts organizations meet to discuss survival strategies


Two years ago, Maryland arts organizations gathered in Annapolis to celebrate a proposed $2.4 million increase in the state's budget for the arts -- and lobby successfully for its passage. Many months of recession later, 650 arts advocates are meeting today to remind legislators that the arts are still very much alive in Maryland -- and to share their survival strategies.

"Arts organizations are trying to get leaner and meaner," says Sue Hess, director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts, which organizes the biennial Arts Day.

The daylong program at St. John's College includes discussions on increasing earned income and forging partnerships with other non-profits, a move which can build audiences and cut office overhead.

Most important, arts advocates have assembled to remind legislators that arts funding is crucial to the cultural and economic well-being of the state. State funding of the arts has dropped from a high of 9.69 percent of the annual operating costs of qualified groups in fiscal year 1991 to a proposed 7.2 percent this year.

"We're not pie-in-the-sky people who don't see what's going on in the real world," said Ms. Hess, who will push to maintain the governor's proposed budget. "The level of 10 percent will come back eventually, but only if we present a solid front."

The economy is also threatening local arts councils. During the past decade, county arts commissions have given organizations technical assistance, planning and, of course, grants. They have also provided a nurturing climate for groups not yet large enough to qualify for state or federal aid.

Since the office of the director of the Baltimore County Arts and Sciences Commission was eliminated last month to save money, arts advocates worry that arts in Maryland might lose its grass-roots government support.

"We're not asking for more money, we're just asking the legislators to recognize the positive economic impact of the arts on their communities," said Albert Maitland, executive director of the Prince George's County Arts Council, a three-person organization at risk of forfeiting most of its funding.

At the request of the Prince George's County government, Mr. Maitland has submitted several proposals as to how the council would operate if the county reduces its grants by as much as 75 percent.

Some arts groups, such as Baltimore's Contemporary art museum, have managed to find new audiences and sources of income. In creating its first three shows, the 2-year-old museum forged partnerships with local AIDS education organizations, with Baltimore's community of Soviet Jews and with the Woodbourne Center, a multiservice treatment facility serving troubled children.

"Instead of going to one person for $100, the idea is to go to four people for $25. You're widening your audience and creating a bigger support base," said Lisa Corrin, assistant director of the Contemporary.

"When you go after audiences who aren't traditional museum-goers and make what you're doing relevant to them, your institution becomes less reliant on the same pool of funds year after year."

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