Holt realizes value of the arts

Baltimore native takes the helm of advocacy group

Howard County

March 15, 2001|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

As a pianist, Pamela Holt understands the importance of rhythm.

Holt is bringing that pattern of flow to her new job as the executive director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts (MCA) and the Maryland Citizens for the Arts Foundation (MCAF). As the head of the statewide advocacy organization, Holt knows the importance of setting the right tone in spreading the value of the arts.

"The opportunity to encourage the arts and to help expand the arts in Maryland was attractive to me," Holt said as she took a rare break in her Ellicott City office. "I think it's going to be an exciting job."

A Baltimore native, Holt, 43, knows firsthand the influence the arts can have. She began taking piano lessons at age 5. As a student at Northwestern High School in the 1970s, Holt worked on the school's student-run radio station, WNW.

"It was fun," Holt recalled. "We did the morning announcements."

Despite dreams of becoming a concert pianist, Holt said, she realized she "wasn't willing to put in the six to eight hours a day" that pursuing that career would take. So she received a bachelor's degree in music from Howard University and began looking for a program that would combine her love of the arts with her business acumen.

"I started writing to schools saying, `This is what I want to do - do you have anything like this?'" Holt said. "That's how I ended up getting a master's degree in arts management from American University."

Several jobs followed, including that of executive director of the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities in Washington.

Lynn Deering, chairwoman of the MCA/MCAF board, said selection committee members were impressed with Holt.

"She told great stories about learning to play piano at Peabody," Deering said. "It was a very strong combination of background and experience. She presented very clearly someone who understood the arts from an emotional perspective, as well as an intellectual perspective and as one who understood the importance of the arts to the community."

With less than two months on the job, Holt has jumped feet first into lobbying legislators for increased funding for the arts.

Her organization has implemented a program known as 8/9/10% Plus for the Arts, which seeks to have 10 percent of every eligible arts organizations' operating budget funded by the state.

The program reached 9 percent when the General Assembly voted last year to approve a $1.9 million increase to the Maryland State Arts Council's (MSAC) budget, bringing it to $13.3 million for fiscal year 2001. But an expected $2.2 million increase was not included in recent budget talks in Annapolis, and supporters are holding their collective breath while they await the governor's final spending proposal.

"One thing that's significant about Maryland is its recognition of the economic impact of the arts," Holt said. "The arts have begun to be seen as a key ingredient in the quality of life as well as the economic well-being of the state."

To that end, the Maryland Office of Tourism Development recently announced a partnership with MSAC to give six Maryland arts events marketing support as part of a pilot cultural-tourism program. Hannah L. Byron, director of the Maryland Office of Tourism Development, said the program will advertise in cities such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Richmond, Va. - areas that Maryland arts events usually have not reached.

"The fourth-most popular activity in the state is attending cultural events and arts festivals," Byron said. "Certainly, our hope is that more marketing will lead to more people attending these events."

Holt said she envisions even more opportunities for the 24-year-old organization she heads.

She divides the little spare time she has between homes in Baltimore and Washington, and she spends time with her parents, Edward and Charlotte, and her sister, C. Yvonne Holt-Stone, a judge in Baltimore and a former Howard County state's attorney.

"And, of course, I play the piano when I can," Holt said with a smile.

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