Millennium bash, Maryland style: Spend a million

Legacy: The year 2000 celebration is serious business for a state commission planning a yearlong series of events.

November 19, 1999|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

There is no how-to manual for plotting a millennium celebration.

And, as Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said yesterday, "You just can't go to the people who planned the last one and ask how they did it."

So Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the lieutenant governor and the legislature did what government does best: They formed a commission, tossed it a million bucks and -- Happy New Year! -- Maryland has itself a millennium celebration.

Yesterday, more than two years after beginning work, officials from the Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000 joined Townsend at Baltimore's World Trade Center to announce what they have devised.

The plan includes grants to grow environmentally safe gardens and a bunch of speeches with such titles as "Civility and Manners in the New Century" and "Apocalypse 2000: Envisioning the End."

Who says Maryland doesn't know how to party?

"When we talked to potential funders," said the commission's executive director, Louise Hayman, "they were very much interested in things that have a legacy to them."

To the commissioners, a hangover doesn't count as a legacy.

So the idea of lighting the Bay Bridge and holding a bash around it was out. The vague idea of a "Hands Across Maryland" party was rejected, too.

Instead, the commission decided to focus on the arts, the environment, education, historical preservation and human services. The state's millennial gardens, for example, will be used to benefit the Chesapeake Bay watershed. (The 28-member commission came up with this name for the program: MaryLandscape.)

The commission will sponsor more than 55 programs throughout next year -- including a food drive, a traveling photo display and a study group on Maryland's role in the Civil War.

It also is sponsoring musical performances, beginning with Jo Ann Poole, a Baltimore City Community College student who was invited to the announcement to belt out a version of Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child."

The programs were announced on the 21st floor of the trade center at the Inner Harbor after a man in a tuxedo played a trumpet to let everyone in the room know that something important was afoot.

Thanks all around

Then Townsend thanked state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the commission's chair, who got up and thanked her, and then the vice chair, Margaret O'Brien of St. Mary's College, thanked them both. Then Hayman got up and thanked everybody, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and the White House Millennium Council, which, she pointed out, has designated Maryland a Millennium State.

Nobody was quite certain what Millennium State status meant, but everybody clapped just the same. This, after all, was a celebration announcement.

Expanding budget

Glendening created the commission in June 1997. The first year, it had a $100,000 operating budget courtesy of the state, the next year it got $400,000, and its budget this year is $900,000. Corporate sponsors have kicked in an additional $850,000, Hayman said.

"Who knows what we'll get for next year?" Hayman said.

About $500,000 will be doled out to communities.

Apparently, organizers didn't believe yesterday's kickoff would have been complete without a mime named Foo-Foo. He was almost happy enough to speak.

Wordless exuberance

Dressed in orange, blue, red, yellow and white rags, with a white plastic face and white hair sprawling from under a pink dunce cap, the millennium mascot for Annap- olis was brought to Baltimore for the announcement.

Foo-Foo wouldn't say a word, but he tossed glittery confetti all around and slapped it on the hands of important people.

"That means Foo-Foo's happy," said a woman from Annapolis who was with Foo-Foo and claims to know such things.

Foo-Foo wasn't the only one. As proof they're not a bunch of killjoys, the commissioners decided to help localities around the state pay the tab for their New Year's Eve celebrations.

"When you have so much to look forward to, you celebrate," Townsend said. "And that's just what we plan to do."

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