A story in last week's Maryland Weekly had an incorrect description of the Olney Theatre. The theater has a professional company. (Published 6/25/87)

The Olney Theatre, which has brought summer stage productions to Montgomery County for more than 40 years, has been named a major arts organization, a designation that makes it eligible for $100,000 in state grants, officials said this week.

The Montgomery County theater is the first arts organization outside Baltimore to be awarded the major arts designation by the Maryland State Arts Council, which made its decision on the proposal last week. The governor is expected soon to announce the decision, council officials said.

"For us as a state, we're very pleased at having an arts organization in the majors category outside the Baltimore area," said Michael Bailey, deputy director of the arts council. "It's really a great step."

Bill Graham Jr., managing director of the Olney, said that the $100,000 funding would be "a great aid to the financial stability and future of the theater." Graham said the money will be used to help cover this year's operating costs, which he estimated at $1.1 million.

The theater, which began in 1946 and is located at Georgia Avenue and Rte. 108, is a community landmark that has a semiprofessional company. It operates from May through mid-October and features dramas, comedies and musicals, and has been affiliated with Catholic University's drama department.

The new designation for the Olney followed a major fund-raising campaign by community groups eager to help ensure the theater's survival. They raised more than $1 million last year, a requirement imposed by the arts council before the designation is awarded.

Major arts organizations are eligible for yearly grants that can equal but not exceed 10 percent of their operating budgets. The Arts Council, which receives funding from the General Assembly and The National Endowment for the Arts, awards 50 percent of the state-appropriated money, about $1.4 million this year, to major arts organizations.

"We've been working on this for years," Graham said, citing the theater's fund-raising efforts.

The 1986 fund-raising efforts were helped by The Friends Of The Olney Theatre, a group formed by Olney Chamber Of Commerce President Lisa McKillop. The group raised $5,000 at an art auction last September and $17,000 at a benefit dinner in January for former Montgomery County executive Charles W. Gilchrist.

"We are so pleased," said McKillop. "Local businesses have helped with the auction." The fund-raising also helped strengthen the bonds between the Olney and the community, she said. "The theater and the community are much more closely connected."

Ironically, one of the Olney's biggest fund-raising problems has been its close working relationship with Catholic University. In the 1950s, the Olney was turned over to the Rev. Gilbert V. Hartke, who insisted that the Olney stay independent of Catholic University, although many of the paid staff positions such as ticket office, costuming and backstage personnel as well as understudies were filled by students and faculty.

"Some folks think we're owned by Catholic University," said Graham.

"When we ask for donations, they ask us, 'Why don't you just get the money from Catholic University?' "

"While we're still proud of our history and affiliation with Catholic University," Graham pointed out, "we are an independent, nonprofit, Maryland-based organization, and we have never received donations or grants from Catholic University."