Attendees of Artscape 2019 watch a musical performance. Photo by Tedd Henn.
Attendees of Artscape 2019 watch a musical performance. Photo by Tedd Henn.

The Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts has more money in its budget, after Baltimore’s spending board restored funds that were withheld in June by the City Council.

Baltimore’s Board of Estimates voted on Wednesday to add $581,334 to BOPA’s budget for fiscal 2024, effective immediately. The funds are coming just over two weeks before the agency puts on one of its biggest events of the year, the three-day Artscape festival, on Sept. 22 to 24.

BOPA is an independent agency that has a contract to serve as the city’s events producer, film office and arts council through June 30, 2024. It originally requested $2,625,754 from the city to help fund its operations for the year that began July 1. After budget deliberations last June, the City Council voted to temporarily withhold $1.7 million.

Members of the council’s Ways and Means Committee said they recommended temporarily withholding the funds because they had questions about BOPA’s governance and operations. They said the funds could be restored if BOPA makes progress on addressing their concerns.

An explanatory message to the Board of Estimates from the city’s budget bureau stated that BOPA has made “marked progress” in addressing the council’s concerns.

“As part of the Fiscal 2024 budget process, City Council reduced the Ordinance of Estimates by $581,334 in Service 824: Events, Art, Culture, and Film, which supports the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA) budget,” the message stated.

“City Council Resolution 23-0177R, introduced and adopted on June 14, 2023, detailed concerns regarding the following: 1) BOPA’s board governance and structure, 2) operations of the Baltimore Film Office, 3) operations of the Baltimore Arts Council and Public Arts Commission, and 4) BOPA’s ability to carry out its mandate to produce events and festivals, administer grants, manage arts education and public art programming, provide film production support, and provide oversight of Baltimore City facilities in its care. The Administration and City Council have determined marked progress has been made in these areas in the time since 23-0177R was adopted. This supplemental appropriation request will restore funding to BOPA in recognition that BOPA has complied with the requested actions of the City Council.”

The funds are coming as a supplemental appropriation from the city’s General Fund. The funding request was on the spending board’s ‘routine’ agenda and was approved without discussion.

Part of the change at BOPA is that an interim CEO, Todd Yuhanick, replaced former CEO Donna Drew Sawyer, who resigned after Mayor Brandon Scott said he lost confidence in her leadership.

Many of the council’s concerns were with Sawyer’s failure to produce events for which the council allocated funds, culminating with her much-criticized decision not to organize the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade in January. This month’s Artscape festival will be the first time the event has been held since 2019.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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