County supports a plethora of arts

Q&A: The executive and deputy director of Howard County Arts Council discuss the art scene in the county.

April 01, 1999|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

The office of Coleen M. West, executive director of Howard County Arts Council, is dominated by a huge abstract oil painting that stands guard over the room. West's desk is a glorious mess: Papers, drawings and pamphlets for events sponsored by the arts council litter the desktop.

With so much on her plate, West, 39, and the council's deputy director, Debbie Meyer, face an imposing task.

The council's $660,000 annual budget must go a long way toward operating the county's Center for the Arts and funding exhibitions and programs. The council gives cash grants to artists and nonprofit organizations. It also subsidizes community development programs such as trips to New York City and gallery talks.

West took over the executive director's post in November 1997 from Mary Toth, who now heads the Maryland Citizens for the Arts in Ellicott City. A Minnesota native, West was the director of development for Maryland Art Place in Baltimore from 1994 until starting with the arts council.

She lives in Bel Air with her husband, John, and her 5-year-old son, Shane.

West recently talked about the year ahead for the council and her belief in the necessity of the arts in people's daily lives.

It seems like there's a lot going on in Howard County as far as arts and entertainment are concerned.

West: We can't keep up with it. We have a calendar that we publish every three months that's full of information, and we're hoping to begin working to create a community calendar in a Web site for up-to-date information on all of the arts happenings. A lot of the best people (artists) don't get their information in to us on time, and we're hoping that the Web site will be able to keep everything more up to date.

Why do you think the arts have taken off in Howard over the past few years?

West: Well, Howard County in general has exploded. It's a highly educated, wealthy community. I think the people who are moving here have an affinity for supporting the arts and wanting a variety of choices. We're very fortunate that we have such a high profile and have so many activities going on here. We provide a lot of money to artists -- especially for a county our size. We're also very fortunate that we have a county that's so supportive of the arts and has that substantial amount to give in the first place.

Meyer: I think it has to do with quality of life. The people in Howard County are very attuned to that and fine arts is what they want. The fine arts have to be supported and it's something that we have to constantly worry about and work toward.

West: We also have a lot of individuals like Toby Orenstein [founder and artistic director of Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia] and Valerie Costantini [artistic director of Rep Stage Theatre Company], who help out and give us their professional advice and actually work for us. That kind of support is invaluable.

What is the arts council planning for the rest of the year?

Well, the biggest thing coming up certainly is the "Celebration of the Arts," [held April 17 at the Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia's Wilde Lake High School]. That is a major year-round effort to bring together the arts community and then celebrate and showcase the talent that we have here. It's made up of a lot of our grantees, and what's unique about it is that it really does showcase all of the arts -- visual, the performing, the spoken word this year.

The celebration is really a major success story. All of the money that we net goes right back to the arts community. Last year, we put in $20,000 into the community arts development program so that all the groups who applied got increases with that extra $20,000.

Patty Rouse is our honorary chair of the event and we have a special presentation that we're making to her this year: two commissioned portraits of Jim and Patty Rouse that'll be permanently installed in the Jim Rouse Theatre. It's something that we've wanted to do for a while and something that a number of community groups have said should be there.

What else is on the long-term calendar?

West: Well, too many things to list here. But on April 23rd, 35 students from Mayfield Woods Middle School in Elkridge will work with the county Department of Recreation and Parks to put on an original theater presentation. This is part of a Hot Spot program with students who are at-risk. This is a pilot program that will give them an opportunity to have something to do after school.

In June, we're set to co-sponsor the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, which will be held in the "black box theatre" here in the Center for the Arts.

The HoCo Open will take place in early July. Anyone who lives, works or studies in Howard County can come by the center and be selected to have their art displayed in a nonjuried exhibition in the Gallery I in the Center for the Arts.

In November, Art HoCo, a biannual juried exhibition, will open. And in January of next year we'll have the "2000 Views" show, which will feature 2,000 pieces of art, none of which can exceed 10-by-10-by-10 in size. That should be very interesting.

We also have all kinds of classes for children and adults. We have a number of resident artists who have access to their studios in the center 24 hours a day. They're often here when the gallery is open, so people can stop by and visit with them.

I also go out to speaking engagements and talk to other arts groups just to let everyone know that we have a great, thriving center here and we want to keep it on the tip of everyone's tongues.

What's your favorite part of the job?

West: Enabling artists to continue working. That's really very rewarding for me. All the paperwork and planning is worth it if we can do that. We just want to foster an appreciation in the public's mind for the arts.

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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