Maryland Public Television's Artworks This Week, which for six years has spotlighted the state's arts scene, will all but cease production at the end of this month, changing from a weekly program featuring new material to one devoted almost entirely to clips from old shows.
Robert Shuman, MPT's president and chief executive officer, said the money and resources that would have been devoted to Artworks will be used to help push the station into the digital age. Like all broadcast TV stations, MPT must broadcast its signal digitally by February to meet a government mandate. In addition, MPT will be broadcasting on two additional digital channels. One, up and running since August, has been broadcasting the Spanish-language V-Me network. A second will be devoted to local programming.
"I've got to do this within the framework of our [existing] resources," Shuman said. "We have a lot of work to do here."
Co-host Rhea Feikin, a fixture on Baltimore television since the1960s, will remain with the station and with the renamed MPT Artworks, Shuman said. She will tape new introductions for the show, which will continue to air 7:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesdays during MPT's weekday "Public Square" block, and do the occasional interview.
Shuman wouldn't discuss the fate of the other cast and crew of Artworks This Week, including co-host Nate Howard, except to say that MPT "will make sure that those individuals have opportunities during the transition."
Howard yesterday said he was told his position at the station has been eliminated, and that he is "no longer a full-time employee of MPT."
Since its February 2002 debut, Artworks This Week has traveled the width and breadth of Maryland, taking viewers everywhere from Cumberland to Ocean City, Elkton to St. Mary's City. During the past month, the show has included segments on the Broadway debut of a musical based on John Waters' 1990 film Cry-Baby, a chat with Maryland Accordion Club founder Joe Fertitta and a segment on Baltimore novelist and writer for The Simpsons Larry Doyle.
"It seems like a huge loss for the whole community," says Maryland Film Festival founder Jed Dietz. "I thought the way they covered events around town was really imaginative, and they had a broad reach. There's nothing else like it."
"Artworks will certainly be missed," said Vincent Lancisi, artistic director of Everyman Theatre. "The Maryland public deserves to know about the great performances and cultural offerings in their community, and Artworks provided a wonderful vehicle to spread the word."
Shuman, however, urged the artistic community and its fans not to give up on MPT. "We feel strongly," he said, "that we're going to come out with something good."
MPT's budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is essentially the same as the current fiscal year's $27.9 million, according to spokesman Michael Golden. That includes about $10 million from the state and about $2.5 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with most of the rest coming from donations, memberships and corporate underwriting.