This week’s letter from GBCA’s Executive Director, Jeannie Howe!

Executive Director’s Letter

September 11, 2012

In the mid-to-late 80’s I spent four years working in theatre and social services in Houston, Texas. Although the economy was in the tank, and some organizations struggled, I recall it as a vibrant if challenging time. In addition to financial stress, policy shifts caused an unprecedented spike in homelessness and the emerging AIDs epidemic was hitting the arts and culture community in the proverbial gut.

Although the oil industry and others were scaling back on philanthropy, it did continue. Of course, as is usually the case, generous individuals continued to carry the water for nonprofits—and not just the rich folk. Just as recent studies through The Chronicle of Philanthropy reveal today, back then lower income donors gave a larger percentage of their salary to charity.

Why this resilience? Although there are many contributing factors, legend had it that after the big oil wildcats scratched their first millions out of the ground (literally), planners got together and asked themselves how they could make Houston a world-class city. How could they attract investors, workers, and other people to live in what was then an inhospitable swamp? In addition to sports teams, medicine and education; they added a ballet, a grand opera, theatre, and museums. The legacy of that decision can be see at the Rothko Chapel, the Menil Collection, the Alley Theatre, and the young arts scene that emerged as a result of these and other institutions.

Regardless of your politics or geography, this part of Houston’s history is a great act to follow. We are fortunate that Baltimore philanthropists have taken a similar path and have helped transform, improve, and even help the city through rough times. Business leader and Raven’s owner, Art Modell, set just such an example. He and Pat had a love for the arts complimented by an understanding of the critical part the sector plays in the life and success of the city. And, a strong arts economy, or ecosystem, allows and supports opportunities for the DIY musicians, artists, performers and others. We will miss the Modells, but are also grateful for the continuing family traditions of the Blausteins, Meyerhoffs, Bakers, Merricks, Frances, and others.

Although, funding for arts and culture in Baltimore lost ground during the recession, that must change. The sector has an important and increasingly vibrant role to play in Baltimore and the five surrounding counties. Helping to meet Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake’s goal of 10,000 new residents is just one example. Who will advocate this message? That would be your GBCA, so join us to make sure your voice can be heard.

Remembering September 11th,

Jeannie

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