Lighting a fire under cultural groups

Arts: Visiting experts, Mikulski say city should toot its own horn, aggressively promote its resources.

June 15, 1999|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Though Baltimore has long been known as a center of the arts, local artists and cultural institutions could be doing even more to make the arts a magnet for visitors to Baltimore.

That was the advice of arts experts from five other cities who came to town yesterday to share strategies for promoting cultural tourism and the arts.

The symposium, which drew several hundred people to the Baltimore Museum of Art, was sponsored by the Baltimore Arts Advocates, a group of artists and arts administrators searching for better ways to showcase Baltimore's cultural resources.

The meeting's tone was set by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who said the arts can be a key to the rejuvenation of communities such as Highlandtown and Mount Vernon.

"We have, as [Peabody Institute director] Bob Sirota would say, a virtual Lincoln Center" in Mount Vernon, she said. "You have a great museum. You have the Peabody, which is a jewel in and of itself. You have the symphony and also other cultural institutions. It is an astounding number of resources, all within walking distance of each other. We need to tell our story. We need to have more confidence."

Mikulski added that she considers herself an artist, since she has written two novels and is a "dues-paying, card-carrying member" of the Fells Point Creative Arts Alliance." And as a U.S. senator, she quipped, "I still make occasional appearances in the Theater of the Absurd."

The arts representatives came from Louisville, Ky.; Chicago; Philadelphia; Hartford, Conn.; and Cleveland.

Suggestions ranged from strengthening ties between institutions to increasing marketing and promotion to providing more "live-work" options for local artists. The arts experts also said individual artists and grass-roots organizations need to be involved in planning and discussions about local arts issues, not just the more established institutions.

Dorothy Coyle, director of tourism for Chicago, said her office is part of the city's Cultural Affairs department, and that makes it easier to promote cultural tourism.

Philadelphia's hotels work closely with arts organizations to create weekend tourism packages tied to events, such as the recent Cezanne exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Cleveland and other U.S. cities are developing "cultural plans" as a way of taking inventory of existing resources and mapping strategies for reaching more people.

Sandra Hillman, executive vice president of the Baltimore advertising firm of Trahan, Burden & Charles and past director of Baltimore's Office of Promotion and Tourism, was one of several Baltimoreans who commented that many of the ideas were not new to Baltimore. She noted that the city worked aggressively to promote its cultural offerings during the 1970s and 1980s. "Chicago didn't invent cultural tourism," she said. "Baltimore did. This city isn't starting from ground zero.

But Hillman conceded that it's valuable to find out what other cities are doing and what Baltimore can do to re-light its cultural fire.

"You need to stoke it up again," she said. "You need to repeatedly light the fire and remind people how indispensable the arts are."

Fred Lazarus IV, president of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, said he hoped the symposium would be the start of an ongoing discussion on ways to strengthen the arts in Baltimore.

"There is terrific work being done around the country that we can learn from as we move forward," he said. "This is just the beginning. We have a lot to do."

Pub Date: 6/15/99

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