« Met's 'Thais' with Fleming simulcast at the Lyric | Main | Petition for arts Cabinet post is gaining steam »

January 5, 2009

Arts groups offer deals for furloughed state employees

Generosity continues to flow from local arts groups. A couple weeks ago, ticket-holders left without any tickets to hold when the Baltimore Opera Company filed for bankruptcy were offered a choice of free seats to a variety of music and theater events in Baltimore and Washington during the remainder of the season. Today, Maryland Citizens for the Arts, an advocacy group that has been active for more than 25 years, announced that several organizations have joined an effort to support the 67,000 state employees who are facing furloughs as part of a budget-balancing move. The employees will be able to obtain various deals, including free or discounted tickets, from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, CenterStage, Baltimore Museum of Art, Walters Art Museum and others. The list of organizations participating in "The Arts Step Up" program is expected to grow.
Posted by Tim Smith at 4:46 PM | | Comments (3)


As a state employee affected by furloughs (as well as an arts patron), I have to say that the offering of free and discounted tickets to furloughed employees leaves me feeling a little queasy. I do not currently feel that I "need" to have free or discounted arts access during tough times--because no one feels tough times more than arts institutions. Oftentimes arts institutions feel the pinch years before the rest of the economy (hence the lack of any endowment at the Lyric, and decreasing/dipped-into endowments at other institutions over the past eight years). I get the feeling that I should be appreciative of this gesture, but it leaves me with more of a slimy feeling than anything else. My arts patronage doesn't change when economic times get tough, because it is something that I value in my life.

What a great idea. While I understand Laura's sentiments, and commend her for them, I believe she is the exception not the rule.

I am an arts manager, and have been unemployed for more than a year (proving Laura's point about A&C being early in the effected column), but with a one salary household and a child in school, I love the thought of being able to take advantage of such an offering.

I think it is a wonderful strategy for building good-will going forward (after the economy rebounds) and gives these organizations a terrific opportunity to build audience loyalty with an eye on the long-term sustainability of their endeavors.

The only cautionary note, which seems obvious, is possible resentment from other unemployed (non-state furloughed) citizens who would also like to benefit from such an offer, and who may, in fact, have been subscribers to these institutions before losing their jobs.

Maybe they can create a Hyundai-like "return your subscription" policy?

Thomas Scurto-Davis
Arts manager

MS candidate, Arts Administration
Drexel University

Good morning, Thomas!

Thank you for your reply, too. Despite my personal sentiments, I completely agree that the offer contains quite a lot of good will, and is absolutely, sincerely well-intentioned. I have no doubt about that, at all. I also wondered about the resentment from other individuals--former state employees and otherwise--who were not offered any obvious discount, either. I like the "return your subscription" idea, as well.

I have no doubt, either, that some furloughed employees (regular patrons and non-patrons alike) will take advantage of the offer--and this is a good thing. And there will be a percentage of non-patrons who obtain subscriptions after their "free day" experience. But I question if that percentage will be statistically significant.

On one hand, I don't want to rain on the parade of a truly sincere gesture. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that a significant number of non-patron state employees would become long-term patrons, based on this offer. Although the more a non-patron visits a museum or attends a live performance (with exhibit changes and changes in programming), the greater the likelihood they will eventually encounter something that makes them say "WOW!" Which then leaves the arts institutions back in a sticky place--needing revenue, wanting larger audiences, but giving more things away for free. It's a fine line to walk, since increasing regular audience/interest in the arts is what's needed.

I know that at the heart of it, I'm not arguing anything that hasn't been argued before (although it is an issue that is never permanently "answered", either--after some of the discussions held at arts conferences--yikes!).

End rant, and I sincerely hope that at the end of the day, everyone involved attains their goals. :)

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected