Twenty-five years ago, the Howard County Arts Council began with a few citizens who met at one family's home.
The council plans to draw a much bigger crowd to celebrate its quarter-century anniversary. It expects more than 700 people to attend its Celebration of the Arts April 22 at Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia.
The annual celebration will feature an audience-judged performing arts competition, a visual arts auction, food, music and other activities.
The arts council originally formed as Howard Arts United when several county residents saw the need for an umbrella organization to share information among arts groups, said Lawrence Siegel, a member of the grants committee and a past president.
Siegel said the group conducted a study in the mid-1980s on how other organizations awarded grants for the arts. A report was written outlining procedures for making arts grants, and that work persuaded the Howard County government to make Howard Arts United its official outlet for distributing grants to arts groups.
With that responsibility came the new title of Howard County Arts Council, Siegel said.
"We made an effort to study all we could find out about arts councils," Siegel said. "We decided without much `hoo-ha' we'd do it all and do it better. ... We didn't know what the obstacles would be so we weren't pessimistic about anything."
This year, the council gave $320,244 in matching grants to 35 arts and cultural organizations. That includes:
Community arts development grants.
Artist-in-education project grants for parent-teacher associations to bring professional artists to Howard County schools.
Baltimore City arts and cultural grants to fund organizations in the city that benefit Howard County residents.
In 1983, the fledgling council asked the school system for space in the vacated Rockland Elementary School building on High Ridge Road and was given the entire building.
The council opened the Rockland Arts Center, which became Howard County Center for the Arts and now offers affordable studio space to 16 resident artists and groups and serves as a home base for 10 more.
The center also has the black box theatre, two professional art galleries with changing exhibits and year-round art classes.
The annual Celebration of the Arts has been the council's main fundraiser for many years. For three years, organizers have made the Rising Star Emerging Performing Artist Award competition the centerpiece of the evening's entertainment.
During auditions in January, 10 finalists were chosen from about 35 singers, musicians and dancers to perform at the celebration. Each one had to be between the ages of 18 and 35 and had to have lived, worked, performed regularly or studied in Howard County.
At the event, the audience will vote for the winners.
This year prizes are $1,000 for third place; $2,500 for second; and $5,000 for first.
"We have probably the most talented slate of people yet," said Coleen West, executive director of the council.
The finalists are:
Alexander A. Brown, 19, a pianist and Wilde Lake High School graduate who is studying music at the New England Conservatory in Boston.
Kacy Clopton, 20, a cellist and junior at the University of Maryland's School of Music, who teaches music in Howard County.
Mandi Davidson, 30, a dancer from Laurel who has performed with dance companies across the country and taught at Caryl Maxwell Ballet in Howard County.
Janine Gulisano, 33, a vocalist from Baltimore who has performed a number of lead roles at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia and acts and teaches at the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts.
J.P. Gulla, 26, a vocalist from Silver Spring who has performed at Toby's Dinner Theatre and works as an acting coach in Howard County.
Korey Jackson, 26, a vocalist and Howard High School graduate who has performed off-Broadway and in regional theater companies.
Caleb Jones, a 20-year-old cellist and onetime Long Reach High School student who is studying at Peabody Institute in Baltimore.
Jill May, a 25-year-old ballerina from Columbia who performs with the Howard County Ballet and teaches for Aesthetics dance school while pursuing her doctorate in physical therapy.
Katherine Needleman, 27, principal oboist of the Baltimore Symphony and member of the Peabody Institute faculty, who attended school in Howard County.
Karen Zizzi, a classical vocalist from Baltimore who is working in Ellicott City while auditioning for opera companies.
The celebration begins with food, music and a silent auction of painting, pottery, jewelry and other works by Howard County artists.
This year, people who do not want to monitor the bids will have the option of paying a "buy it now" price to secure an item.
The council will announce its annual Howie Award winners, chosen for their long-term contribution to the cultural life of Howard County.
This year, sculptor Tatiana was named outstanding artist and Barry Enzman, Glenelg High School's director of bands, was named Outstanding Arts Educator. Steve Gershman, who has served as a board member for the arts council, the Columbia Festival of the Arts and Leadership Howard County was named the outstanding community supporter of the arts.
The council will also award its annual scholarships for young artists who wish to pursue education in the arts. The $7,000 award will be divided among three winners.
Over the past quarter-century, "we've stayed steady on our mission," West said. "We've built and grown, but we are still fostering the arts, artists and arts organizations."
The Celebration of the Arts will take place from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. April 22 at Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia. Tickets are $50 and $75. Information: 410-313-2787 or www.hocoarts.org.