Public funds for arts not a pretty picture

Local arts organizations trying to do more with less

February 19, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • Rebecca Massie Lane stands Friday at the entrance to the shuttered William H. Singer Jr. Memorial Gallery at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. A leak in the roof over the gallery developed this winter. Lane is director of the museum.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

The bust of Abraham Lincoln by John Gutzon Borglum that graces the corner of a gallery at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts was not purchased with public funds, but taxpayer dollars do help pay the light bill, Director Rebecca Massie Lane said.

With a 2011 budget of about $1.1 million, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra will receive $74,477 from the Maryland State Arts Commission (MSAC), about $1,200 less than in 2010, MSO Director of Development Vicki Willman said.

Mary Anne Burke, executive director of the Arts Council of Washington County, said MSAC funding for her organization has dropped from about $102,000 two years ago to about $85,000 this year.

Local arts organizations have been trying to do more with less public funding in recent years, a trend that could accelerate with proposed cuts in federal arts programs.

President Obama has proposed reducing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts from $167.5 million to $146.2 million. The U.S. House of Representatives went further, voting in favor of an amendment to cut another $20.5 million from the NEA.

The administration has proposed an identical cut to the National Endowment for the Humanities and reducing the Institute of Museum and Library Services funding from $282 million to $242.6 million.

"I love the arts. I support the arts. That is why I contributed $1,000 to become a lifetime member of the Frederick Arts Council," said U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who voted for the amendment to cut arts funding. While encouraging others to do the same, he said, "using taxpayers' money to support the arts is not an authorized activity by the federal government."

"In addition, the United States has a huge budget problem," Bartlett said in a statement. The House is working on a bill that, he said, "would cut $100 billion from federal government spending for the next seven months. That's only 1/15th of our budget deficit for this year."

The NEA and NEH are grant-making federal agencies to which arts organizations can go for funding.

Maryland is getting $863,800 from the NEA this year, money to support the Arts and Education, Arts and Communities and Maryland Traditional Arts programs, said Carla Dunlap, a senior program director for MSAC. However, most of MSAC's $13.3 million budget comes from general fund allocations and is primarily for operational costs of nonproift organizations, she said.

Organizations can apply directly to the NEA for grants, mostly for programs, but not for acquisitions of art or capital improvements, such as the museum's $2.5 million atrium courtyard now taking shape, Lane said.

The museum also is dealing with how to fix the William H. Singer Jr. Memorial Gallery, which closed after its roof began to leak.

"There's no emergency funding that I know of," Lane said.

The museum recently applied for a $10,000 NEA grant to expand an arts education program for the mentally and physically challenged, which would be matched by the museum dollar for dollar, she said.

"We're quite pleased that the governor's budget to the legislature proposes flat funding" for the arts at the 2010 level of $13.3 million, Willman said.

"We're pretty ecstatic the way things are" with Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal, Dunlap said. "Some states are talking about getting rid of their arts councils altogether."

The $74,447 the MSO is to receive from the MSAC is expected to be 6.4 percent of the orchestra's operating budget for this year, Willman said. Subscriptions and ticket sales, private contributions, the MSO's endowment and other private sources make up the bulk of the budget, she said.

Additionally, the City of Hagerstown contributed $19,500 to the MSO for music education and arts programming, and Washington County contributed another $13,920 for music education programs serving students throughout the county, Willman said.

The MSO's annual "Salute to Independence" at Antietam National Battlefield received a separate $20,000 contribution from the county Hotel Rental Tax Fund, Willman said. That event drew an estimated 38,000 people last Fourth of July and had a direct economic impact to the area of $800,000, she said, quoting estimates from Americans for the Arts.

Cuts in arts funding, whether federal, state or local, could have a trickle-down effect on local arts groups.

"Like all nonprofits, these last few years have been very difficult," Burke said.

The county cut funding for nonprofits by 3 percent, reducing its contribution to the council from $15,600 last year to $15,290, she said.

Among belt-tightening moves were reducing the council's gallery manager position from full time to 24 hours a week and a greater reliance on volunteers to keep from cutting the number of hours the gallery is open, Burke said.

Approximately 85 percent of the money for the Museum of Fine Arts is from nongovernmental sources, Lane said. The museum has an annual budget of about $1 million. People and organizations donate art to museums or money to support capital projects and exhibits, but supporting operations costs is a harder sell, she said.

"Giving to pay the electric bill. That's not so much fun," she said.


State support for the arts

Maryland state support for the arts in fiscal 2011 in Washington County:

Community Arts Development Grant to Washington County Arts Council — $85,654

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra —

City of Hagerstown/Western Maryland Blues Fest —

Maryland Theatre Association —

Hagerstown Community Concert Association —

Hagerstown Choral Arts Inc. —

Source: Maryland State Arts Council
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