The rash of fires at city middle and high schools this fall may have resulted in part from the lack of opportunities for students to express themselves artistically, Mayor O'Malley said last night.
The more than 40 fires set at 14 schools - 15 alone at Walbrook High Uniformed Services Academy - have led to the allocation of $1.5 million in increased security measures. Yet O'Malley, in remarks delivered during the third annual Cultural Town Meeting, suggested that part of the problem might have been the elimination of arts initiatives often dismissed as frills.
"I recently met with the newly elected student council at Walbrook High School," O'Malley said. "They told me that they have no art supplies with which they can pump up school spirit in advance of homecoming. They want to put on a play, The Wiz, and they haven't had the resources to do it."
The Cultural Town Hall meeting is a once-a-year opportunity for the city's arts community to meet the mayor and express concerns, and last night, about 350 people took advantage of it.
The issues raised were similar to those that would have been expressed by any group of business people - crime, public transportation, affordable housing. That's because the arts aren't separate from the wider community, the mayor said, but an integral part of it.
"What you're doing as a community absolutely is making a difference," O'Malley told the crowd. "You're helping us move the city forward."
But, he added: "We still have a lot to do."
Among other issues, O'Malley said he was concerned about the potential impact a planned $4 billion Metro train line to Washington Dulles International Airport will have on Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
"Dulles is going to have us for lunch if we don't get the Washington Metro to build an extension out to BWI," he said. "We're going to work hard to make that happen."
And should that extension come to pass, O'Malley pledged to try to bring train service to the Station North Arts District. "It's just a short putt," he said. "If we get to BWI, I'll find a way to get it farther north as well."
In other remarks and answers to questions, O'Malley said:
The city plans to offer unused city-owned property to artists to develop studios and nonprofit galleries. The first such building, at 30 S. Calvert St., "will be a model for creative use of stable, vacant, city-owned buildings awaiting development in the future," O'Malley said. "It's really a win-win for both artists and the city."
Artscape 2005 will contain a fashion segment for the first time - a nod to Baltimore's past as a center for the garment industry.
But an O'Malley staff member had some somber news about Artscape -it will have no light rail service next summer because the popular weekend festival coincides with scheduled maintenance of the tracks.
The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts hired 127 artists this year to teach in-school, after-school and summer arts programs, as compared to 100 last year. The office also disbursed more than double the city arts grants, from $55,000 last year to $135,000 this year.
"It's a start," O'Malley said. "I just wish I had more time, and more money."