Baltimore's artistic community meets with mayor, seeks increased visibility

Issues of commerce, funding take the stage

October 30, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's artistic community -- from the struggling to the well-established mainstream -- discussed ways to become more unified last night at a town meeting arranged by the administration of Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Speaking to a capacity crowd of about 300 people in a University of Baltimore auditorium, O'Malley said he wished he could spend more time on the city arts scene instead of focusing on fighting crime and drug addiction, which he compared to scraping barnacles off a ship's keel.

"We're moving forward, but be patient with me while we scrape the barnacles, which slows hoisting the sail," O'Malley said.

Leaders of major city arts institutions -- including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Center Stage, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art and Maryland Institute College of Art -- attended, as well as other musicians, actors and artists of all kinds, including a group of youths from Reservoir Hill known as Kids on the Hill, who make crafts and memorabilia.

The event was organized by Randi Vega, the city's director of cultural affairs recently arrived from New England. The goal seemed to be to demonstrate the depth of Baltimore's arts community and create more cohesion.

"This is the beginning of a dialogue with the mayor," Vega said.

John Berendt, who said his band, Red Room Collective, plays "avant-garde" music in Waverly and referred to himself as part of the "underground" arts scene, was one of several who shared the podium and made brief remarks along with the mayor.

Megan Hamilton, program director of the community-based Creative Alliance in Highlandtown, also spoke, urging the mayor to view the assembly as an asset.

"Bring us to the table. Respect the work we do," she said.

Tony Shore, a muralist and founder of Access Art in Southwest Baltimore, said that the meeting could help bring the arts community together to seek more recognition and funding.

There was a discussion about how to gain more funding for arts projects, and O'Malley referred a few to Thomas E. Wilcox, president of the nonprofit Baltimore Community Foundation.

"Very few mayors in times of contraction are so open to new ideas and willing to listen the way he does," Wilcox said after the meeting. "There's an emerging consensus that we're engaged in a rebirth and that young people are attracted by arts and can create a new economy."

A new arts district was recently designated by the city as Station North, in the area around Pennsylvania Station, giving tax breaks to resident artists and to developers who rehabilitate housing for artists.

A player and singer in his own Irish rock band, O'Malley, asked to see if the Inner Harbor amphitheater could feature more local performers, replied: "Note to self. Yes."

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