Arts-rich Baltimore should better leverage its assets

November 13, 2001|By Doreen Bolger

THERE IS no question that Baltimore is arts rich.

All across the nation there are cities struggling to achieve what we already have. Put aside the acknowledged value the arts have for improving the quality of life for Baltimore's citizens. Think of the arts simply as an asset. Are we really maximizing what this cultural richness could mean for this city, for its image, and for its economy?

All over town, arts organizations are collaborating with tremendous results. The Baltimore Museum of Art and Maryland Institute College of Art's joint exhibition of local artist and MICA graduate Joyce Scott is among the highest-attended exhibitions at the BMA.

The BMA and the Walters Art Museum's joint exhibition "The Triumph of French Painting" was seen by nearly 230,000 people in three American cities and another 155,500 in London.

Dozens of arts organizations large and small have joined together in the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, a grassroots arts organization in incubation at the Greater Baltimore Alliance. And five leading arts organizations, working closely with the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitor's Association, have planned a citywide arts festival, "Vivat! St. Petersburg," to celebrate the 300th anniversary of that Russian city in the winter of 2003. This effort will generate $75 million worth of spending in just three weeks of otherwise slow hotel occupancy.

What more could we do to leverage these assets? We want to polish this city's image nationwide. We want tourists to flock to our city. We want people to move here, and we want them to stay. How about investing in the arts because it makes economic sense?

Here's what Baltimore can do to improve its cultural prospects:

Look to successful cities as models: Philadelphia, where cultural tourism has become a highly coordinated effort; Providence, R.I., where artists live and work tax-free; or New York, where the arts have played (and will play again) a huge role in the city's renaissance.

Support arts education in the schools to develop our community as well as our audiences.

Increase out-of-market promotion for cultural tourism.

Provide infrastructure so tourists can travel from one site to another by public transportation.

Improve signage and way-finding so that our arts sites are highlighted throughout the year.

Maintain and expand funding for our cultural assets.

Our city has so many outstanding attributes already. But for the arts to shine even more brightly for Baltimore, we all need to do more.

Doreen Bolger is the director of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

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