Thursday, February 19, 2009
Last week, I went to my first Maryland Arts Day in Annapolis, MD. It was an eye-opener! I grew up in the 'burbs of Manhattan, a city that runs on business and finance. Being in a true political town was a new experience for me. Howard County photographer Denee Barr and I travelled together. She's an experienced arts advocate and was a great tour guide. We're both moms and couldn't leave until after the kids were at school, so we missed most of Marin Alsop's keynote speech. Ugh. Here are the basics of Maryland Arts Day. First, the numbers: We got the down and dirty info on Gov. O'Malley's proposed budget and how it affects the arts. Do you remember, as I do, O'Malley's recent ultimatum? It went something like, "If I don't get slots, I'm cutting your arts." Well, he got his slots. And the arts? His proposed budget cuts funding to the Maryland State Arts Council 36%. It would put the state funding for the arts at its lowest level since 1999. Money for the arts would not return to the 2009 level for four years. That's a huge hit to our theaters, orchestras, and programs like the one I work for -- arts residencies in the schools. Struggling schools in particular rely on grants for special programming. One speaker had a metaphor for the proposed cuts. He said it's as if you were trying to climb a mountain, and someone came along and dug a hole under your feet. After four years of filling in the hole, you'd be no closer to reaching the mountain top. Once everyone had some facts, we were given some brief advocacy training. These were dos and don'ts for meeting with the legislators. I always like to emphasize the dos. A few of them were: thank your legislator for past support, state your request and ask for specific support with funding the MSAC budget, and be on time! I went with the Howard County delegation, led by the indomitable Colleen West. She's Executive Director of the Howard County Arts Council. Colleen took about 13 of us (from Columbia Pro Cantare, The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, the arts council and other groups) and brought lunches to our delegates. We met with Liz Bobo, Frank S. Turner, and Gail Bates to state our case on behalf of the arts. Senator James Robey and Delegate Guy Guzzone spent a good hour talking with our group about how important a lively arts scene is to a thriving community. Gail Bates in particular was excited to hear that I do poetry residencies in our local schools. Several legislators weren't able to come to lunch, but Colleen didn't want them to feel left out. She marched the group of us up and down the senate building, in and out of elevators, offices, tunnels and staircases until we visited every single Howard County representative and talked with them or their assistants. Talk about empowerment! Here's the "What can I do?" part. You can go to www.mdarts.org and sign up for their arts advocacy newsletter. You can send an email to your legislator. Basically, the goal is for any wording about MSAC taken out of O'Malley's budget. As Colleen West said, we know the arts will take a hit in this economy, but we want that cut discussed among and decided upon by our legislators, not made in one fell-swoop by the governor.