Cultural arts don't deliver as big a bang for the buck as other public services, at least not in the minds of Anne Arundel County taxpayers.
"They either don't believe there are any cultural arts in Anne Arundel County or they think they are a waste of money," said Daniel Nataf, a social scientist at Anne Arundel Community College whose students surveyed 386 residents this month.
The public opinion poll, released by the college yesterday, shows residents are happiest with the college's performance. Dr. Nataf said 88 percent of those polled described the college as a "good buy" for their tax dollar.
By comparison, 79 percent described county firefighters and the public libraries as "good," rather than "OK" or "poor." Trash collection, police and parks followed.
Public education trailed distantly, receiving "good" marks from 56 percent of those polled. Only 39 percent described cultural arts as a "good buy."
Regardless of the poll results, enrollment in classes at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and attendance at performances by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and other groups is rising, said Theresa Strobel, director of public relations and marketing for Maryland Hall.
The arts center, located in an old high school, offers courses in art, dance and music and is home to the Ballet Theatre of Annapolis and the Annapolis Opera.
"I think it is important to note that the cultural arts are not 100 percent tax-based as, say, the police department is," Ms. Strobel said. Only 5 percent of Maryland Hall's budget comes from taxpayers, she said.
The county government will spend $360,000 on local and regional programs, including the Baltimore Zoo and Baltimore Museum of Art. That is a tiny fraction of the $900 million the county will spend on police protection, libraries, schools and public utilities.
"You might say the frills took a beating," said Dr. Nataf. "People are unaware of what good they are getting from [the arts grants]. That may just be a case of marketing."
The poll should concern public educators more than those at Maryland Hall, Dr. Nataf said.
Education "is not a frill, but it's obviously not done well enough in most people's minds," he said.
The poll found that 36 percent of county residents have "very serious" doubts about the quality of public education, and 37 percent thought crowded classrooms a "very serious" issue.
"People seemed to have the most venom and seemed to have the cruelest things to say about the schools," Dr. Nataf said.