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Thoughts on issues relating to Harford County

April 17, 2005

Lack of organization dooms arts center

Once again Harford County can claim three active factions working separately toward their own visions of an art or cultural center.

Bel Air and their downtown alliance, abandoning their pipe dream (after spending gobs of money) of a multimillion-dollar center between the firehouse and the library, is starting small (a good idea) with something in, of all things, the old Armory (a bad idea).

This in spite of the fact that the location is horrid and the parking situation even worse.

But, few in the visual arts expect anything benefiting the art community to come out of Bel Air; history is a great teacher.

The second group, the newly incorporated Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, claims financing from the county "to assist with planning a Center for the Arts."

They also pledge to "have a full-time professional dedicated to implementing the vision for the Center for the Arts." ... Once again, as seems to be the pattern locally, they are talking starting at the top with a multimillion-dollar project. The vision is essentially the same as all past visions coming out of Bel Air and Harford County, one of pointedly ignoring, snubbing, even insulting anything in the way of visual arts organizations already in existence.

The third organization working in the direction of an art center is actually working, and has been for years. Harford Artists Association, in the last half decade, has moved from merely the most prominent local art organization to one already providing many of the services of a visual arts center, without the center - workshops, guest speakers, annual critiques, free to artists community service art show (ArtQuest), Young Artists Exhibit, organization of the potters & 3D artists, gallery, office, group participation in other art shows in the area, juried member shows, Pictures at an Exhibition - our regional salon-style show at Rockfield Manor, publication of the Harford Art Calendar serving all organizations with scheduled happenings, cosponsoring Havre de Grace Arts Commission's annual Juried Exhibition, quarterly Sketchpad Newsletter placed around the county, annual Magazine, Web site serving all area artists whether member or not, working to organize the area fine art photographers and much, much more.

Harford Artists Association Inc. is flexible and persistent. In the absence, to date, of cooperation from the county, Bel Air, Aberdeen, Havre de Grace or a private party in Harford County in providing the use of a building in return for our service to the community (something common elsewhere), we will simply continue to place one foot in front of the other with the certain knowledge that this growing, learning and increasingly cohesive art community will eventually provide Harford County with the visual art, and hopefully performing arts, center it deserves.

The obvious question here is one of why none of the organized efforts in Harford County have, in any legitimate way in the past, approached Harford Artists Association. Has it occurred to any of them that this just might have been the decision that fated their efforts to failure?

This includes the old Theater effort in Bel Air, the Barn proposal at Rockfield a few years ago, the money-pit project by the library, the present downtown project and the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts groups. We do realize that cooperation and joint efforts between and among art related groups in Harford County has very little history, to say the least.

The ensuing discussion with a member of their Board of Directors was enlightening. He assured us that one of his concerns was that the artists not be allowed any control over anything, not even as a group. Direct involvement of the artists was cited as the cause of the failure of all past efforts in the area.

Of course it is my contention that the opposite is true, that the lack of direct involvement by the artists as an organization is the primary cause of the failure of all past efforts. Two hardly reconcilable visions. To the mention that it would be our goal in any negotiations with a Center who wanted the established art organization to take part, to have that organization retain its own nonprofit status and be structured such that the membership retained control (as they do in Harford Artists) over certain matters that directly effect them, the response was that this amounted to an artists' union and was antithetical to their principles.

HAA Inc. is Harford County's visual art association. Any effort to bypass Harford Artists is blind to the importance, both real and financial, of the local visual art community in the success of such an endeavor.

Jim Craig

The writer is chairman of Harford Artists Association Inc.

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