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September 1, 2009

Fund drive for the arts in Detroit suggests possible model elsewhere

A few communities around the country have a kind of United Way for the arts, where people can contribute to a general fund that benefits multiple organizations. I have wondered from time to time if that kind of campaign would have been useful in Baltimore, especially when the Baltimore Opera Company was slipping toward the abyss, and also back in the early part of the decade when the Baltimore Symphony piled up deficits.

I don't know what the overall track record for such community funds is; one discouraging sign is what happened in Orlando, where the local opera company essentially folded last season, despite a united arts fund. But now comes word of a successful drive in Detroit, a city that hasn't exactly been a boom town of late. A remarkable $4.8 million was raised there last week in a burst of fundraising fervor that benefited 75 arts groups there, including the Detroit Symphony ($596,000). Given the economy, that's 

pretty damn impressive. I gather from Mark Stryker's story in the Free Press that the online system for contributions wasn't exactly flawless, but it looks like it did the job well n the end.

I know that arts groups can be very turf-conscious, especially when it comes to harvesting prospective donors, so a campaign like this can be tricky. But there's something about the concept that seems awfully appealing to me. It's a way of reinforcing a message that can't be underlined enough -- the arts are good for everybody in the community and everybody who visits the community.

It may be worth looking at a united fund here, to drive home that point and offer people a chance to step up to the plate in a communal way.

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:19 AM | | Comments (0)

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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.
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