There's a gentleman who frequents Centerstage events in Baltimore and always wears a bright red "Arts Advocate" button. A year ago at a show there, I introduced myself to him by admiring it.
I asked him if I qualified as an arts advocate, having driven my three children to assorted music and dance lessons over the past decade? He gave me the button.
These days I wear it to bed and dream of a Maryland where the future of the arts is not in jeopardy.
I have intensely personal reasons for my commitment to the arts. Each of my three children appears to have an arts inclination, and while my husband and I encourage them to follow their passions, there's a big part of us that hopes they will be able to get a darn job and afford to live on their own when the time comes. We're not running the Gilbert bed and breakfast indefinitely.
But I worry, because the arts in Maryland surely seem to need our support now, more than ever.
I admit I felt guilty and a little bit responsible when I read of the Baltimore Opera Company's canceling its two remaining productions this year and filing for Chapter 11. I never went to a Baltimore Opera Company production, but it was one of those cultural activities that I thought I'd get around to, eventually.
I guess I never imagined the well-established company would come to such a tragic end, after more than a half-century of performances. Someone should write an opera about it, and we all ought to buy tickets to see it.
Because it is precisely in these difficult economic times when we need the instant getaway that the arts provides. Sit at a play or a concert or dance performance, and you lose yourself in the music and movement, the comedy and pathos. In many cases, with student discounts and special deals, the ticket prices are on a par with a night at the movies.
At the very least, I think we ought to match the commitment of our hometown arts innovators by regularly bringing our families to sample their offerings.
Take the talented and generous musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, for example, who volunteered for a wage freeze in the next season in order to keep their organization upbeat in a decrescendo-ing economy. Why not treat your video gamers to the Final Fantasy concert on June 27, featuring video graphics and the music of Japanese video game composer Nobuo Uematsu? Afterward, over ice cream, talk to your children about how classical music informs virtually every kind of tune by artists from Aerosmith to ZZ Top.
But be careful not to overdo it. Remember, you're trying to build an audience, not bore one.
And then there's the gutsy Centerstage, where they are most definitely not paring down their offerings, but exploding them in a brand new "Theatrical Tapas" season of four plays, two short works, four cabarets, a holiday extravaganza and three concert readings.
Now that's the kind of Baltimore theatrical chutzpah that ought to be rewarded - and it's in our power to do so, simply by showing up. Your children will flip over the action-packed staging of Laura Eason's Around the World in 80 Days in November and December, perfectly timed so we can put a stop to the holiday mall madness and enjoy an evening of the season.
My point is, so what if a long vacation is out of the budget this year? A one-night arts getaway is still possible. It might prove more sustaining, and just as memorable.
Plus, every kid in the middle school jazz band, every actor in the high school musical, and every dancer in the local production of the Nutcracker thanks you, in advance.
Janet Gilbert, a freelance writer, lives in Woodstock. Visit her at www.janetgilbert.net.