Unfortunately, arts take first hit

Kai Hagen

January 24, 2003

"My new year's resolution is to pay attention, and to do the little things I can do here that might help in some way."

Those words ended my previous column two weeks ago.

As you might expect, it isn't hard to find little things that can make a difference in our community. One of them was brought to our attention recently, when the Frederick News Post reported the Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center had to cut back its hours in January and lay off an employee. That is not the way the Arts Center would like to begin the new year.

But money is tight all over, and it is common knowledge that when budget cuts loom, the arts often take the first hit. The city of Frederick reduced its usual $75,000 contribution by $15,000 this fiscal year, and the Maryland State Arts Council reduced its expected $18,000 contribution by $5,000. So far, Frederick county's contribution has remained at $40,000.

That may sound like a lot of money, but if you do the math the total support from those sources is less than sixty cents a year for each resident of Frederick County. And the reduced support came in spite of growing evidence that the arts generate jobs and revenue for Maryland communities and are often a key factor affecting where businesses decide to locate. Plainly speaking, the arts enhance the quality of life in a community--in our community.

In fact, the cutbacks came on the heels of a recent study prepared for the Maryland State Arts Council by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED), which showed the arts generated an estimated $31 million in state and local taxes in fiscal year 2001, and supported 18,217 full-and part-time jobs. In addition, for every dollar of direct spending by audiences attending arts events, another $2.30 is generated in other goods and services, according to the study.

The real impact is far greater, however, as the study did not take into account the economic impact of for-profit arts organizations and the activities of individual artists. (A summary of the study, Economic Impact of the Arts in Maryland: 2002 Update, can be found on the MSAC website at

To promote state support for the arts and arts education, hundreds of individuals representing arts organizations, community leaders, and educators from across the state will attend Maryland Arts Advocacy Day in Annapolis next Tuesday. The event was organized by the Maryland Citizens for the Arts and its companion organization, Maryland Citizens for the Arts Foundation. The theme of day, which is One State Together for the Arts, will emphasize the many ways the arts make a contribution to the economy of Maryland–-from small towns to metropolitan areas. Governor Robert L. Ehrlich will attend and Senate President Mike Miller, House Speaker Michael Busch and others have been asked to participate.

It is good to see additional evidence that the arts have a tremendous economic value and are a sound investment for communities. And I appreciate what financial support Frederick City and County provide for our own Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center. But the cultural life of the county would be greatly impoverished if we simply counted on government funding. Such support covers only about a fourth of the annual operating budget for the Delaplaine Center, for example.

Beyond the revenues that the Delaplaine generates from sales and services, the rest of the funding it takes to sustain this vibrant institution comes from the many individual contributors and private companies that have recognized the inherent cultural value of supporting the arts.

With their help, the Delaplaine has become the largest visual arts center in Maryland outside of Baltimore, befitting a growing city that has become the second largest in the state.

While the long-awaited re-development of the Carroll Creek corridor has languished, the Delaplaine has restored and occupied an award-winning building at creekside in historic downtown Frederick. The inviting facility offers a remarkable variety of free and low cost classes and workshops for adults and children, innovative programs, guest lectures, special events and other services.

And there are almost always exhibits in the galleries, highlighting the work of outstanding local artists one month, and children's art the next.

No doubt, for each of the members who have supported the Delaplaine over the past sixteen years, there are probably more than a few people like me. People who attend a few art events every year, and would lament the loss of a local resource like the Delaplaine, but have never contributed more than the price of admission (when admission is charged at all).

So, in light of the fact that the arts are too often the first casualty when budgets get cut, I decided to reverse the order of things and make it one of the first of the little things I can do to help. As of this week, we now have a family membership.

There are, of course, a number of benefits to membership, including advanced notice mailings, invitations to special events, discounts on classes, art trips, entry fees, workshops & lectures and more. And, after visiting the center for the first time in a while, we are also motivated to take advantage of more of what this outstanding institution has to offer.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at