Growth5 Blog

Thursday, March 19, 2009

No Wheelchair for the Opera

About 50 yards ahead on the sidewalk, the empty wheelchair stood like a riderless horse. Next to it, on the ground was a pile of old clothes. People were rushing up and down the sidewalk, stepping around the pile of clothes.

When I got a little closer I could see that there was a person inside those clothes, lying helplessly on the ground. He apologized for being heavy as I helped him back into his machine.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"No," he said. "Can you buy me a Big Gulp?"

"Sure," I replied. "What flavor?"

"Root beer."

I returned from the corner convenience store, handed him drink and wished my new friend well.

Then I rushed off for dinner with another friend who serves on the board of The Baltimore Opera Company. Over a better beverage than root beer, she announced sadly that the opera had that day decided to close after almost 60 years of performances. A great social asset is gone -- and it's not coming back.

"We had some promises of money, but there just wasn't enough out there," said general manager M. Kevin Wixted in The Baltimore Sun the next day. "To raise money for a season of opera was out of the question. We could have struggled on month to month, but we'd never get ahead. I know people wanted to believe we'd come back. But in this business, you have to depend on raising big money from people."

I guess they decided to stop putting the opera back in the wheelchair.

It's a sad but important lesson of the economic downtown: we are all its victims -- from the homeless man on the street to the opera.

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