In 2010, with granting assistance from the Baltimore Community Foundation, GBCA developed a brochure titled “Art: Everywhere in Baltimore” to serve as a
demonstration of the vast and vibrant cultural sector of the region. The brochure contains both information about the arts and culture, as well as economic impact figures taken from the Maryland Cultural Data Project. A corresponding microsite was developed to spread the information far and wide.
GBCA has brochures available if you would like to distribute them. If you would like to come to the GBCA offices to pick up brochures, please send an email to email@example.com.
In 2010 Nancy Haragan, founding executive director of GBCA, and Doreen Bolger, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, co-authored a white paper about the region’s cultural sector. You can read that white paper here, or below.
A CITY POISED FOR ITS FUTURE
Baltimore is positioned to change the quality of American urban life. Its population, diversity, density, and physical size make it an ideal incubator and test ground for new ideas about community in the twenty-first century. Despite the social challenges Baltimore faces with poverty and crime, its affordability, size, and location—only 38 miles from Washington, D.C., and within striking distance of the entire Northeast corridor—make it to home to a cohort of highly educated, creative, and engaged citizens. It is at the center of a state that offers a broad range of options for recreation, culture, and higher education, giving it an edge over other urban settings.
Baltimore’s rich cultural community is uniquely poised to lead this urban transformation by increasing participation in and engagement with the arts and thus civic life. As the New York Times has suggested, Baltimore has “enough grittiness to feed any starving-artist fantasy.” Now, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, a seismic shift is occurring in arts production, audience development, and funding streams that offer challenges but also opportunities for innovation, if the community can be nimble while still responding with substance. In fact, the prospects for successful change are high and potentially offer a national model for other challenged cities such as Detroit, Michigan; Newark, New Jersey; Hartford, Connecticut; St. Louis, Missouri; and others seeking to reinvent themselves in the decades ahead. Furthermore, by applying compelling resources and energy to highlighting the breadth and depth of the arts and culture sector, the City of Baltimore can demonstrate the significance of its role as a resource and its importance as a compelling economic development attractor leader for the growing and robust population in the surrounding counties. The sector could become a model for regional economic and social cooperation in Central Maryland. The Baltimore arts and culture community already is a major force for the tourist economy, attracting visitors from other places, but its health and future remains tied to its role as a provider of increased quality of life for those who live in the region. Arts and culture help define civic life, its diversity, and economic vitality.
SURVEYING BALTIMORE’S ARTS AND CULTURE SCENE
When we survey the arts and culture scene here, it is clear that Baltimore possesses extraordinary assets. There are practicing artists, arts organizations, and institutions in every discipline, large and small, both established and emerging. There are two major art museums, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) and the Walters Art Museum, the nationally recognized Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Centerstage, a strong regional theater. There is a vibrant field of small and mid-sized arts organizations in every discipline. Baltimore’s artists and arts organizations are also skilled at collaboration and partnerships—among themselves and with others. Many arts initiatives are presented by multiple partners.
Throughout the arts community, accessibility has been embraced as a base-line imperative: the city has sponsored Free Fall, a citywide festival with free arts events, and the BMA and The Walters instituted free general admission in 2006. There is evidence that the arts audience is broadening: Forty-two percent of those who participated in Free Fall and or visited the BMA or the Walters since admission has been free are new, first-time participants. Among those who redeem half-price offers from BaltimoreFunGuide.com, circulated by the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (GBCA), and now in its sixth year of making weekly half price offers, 70% of the participants are new to venues they visit. But more than addressing the potential for removing economic barriers, cultural organizations of all sizes have expanded programming to appeal to the interests of the young, as well as the African American, Hispanic and Asian audiences, because it adds to the depth of not only their offerings, but of the discussion.
Despite, the breadth, depth, and impact of the arts and culture community, this sector has long been seriously undercapitalized, particularly in the areas of marketing, audience research, and fundraising, making it difficult to reach the regional base of participants and supporters that are needed to sustain and grow the arts and culture sector. The national economic downturn and its local ramifications now heighten these challenges. The arts coverage in our local newspaper, the Baltimore Sun has diminished. There has been growth on the air waves, notably on local public radio stations WYPR and WTMD. The alternative weekly Citypaper and the themed monthly magazine Urbanite, both distributed free-of-charge, and dynamic, locally produced comics and zines, which are offered for sale at alternative venues like Atomic Books and Red Emma’s, focus new attention on the arts. As elsewhere, online vehicles are on the rise. Baltimorefunguide.com provides a regional calendar of arts events, that are covered electronically by Radarredux.net and discussed across the community on list serves and blogs, most notably www.bmoreart.com, which lists the many online vehicles for learning about the Baltimore art scene.
COLLECTIVE ARTS ACTION
Baltimore achieved such progress in the arts and culture sector over the past
decade because artists and arts organizations, large and small, have worked together collectively, putting the good of the whole community ahead of individual agendas. Partnerships and collaborations have become the norm. The GBCA has been key to creating this cohesive cultural community. Today, GBCA continues to serve as a unifying voice and bridge-builder, act as a convener, and provide information and services to the arts and culture sector.
Since a group of artist-activists and arts organizations came together to found the GBCA in 2001, it has successfully launched and maintained a number of online services that benefit arts organizations and audiences in Central Maryland and beyond—www.baltimorefunguide.com, a calendar which lists exhibitions and events, and the Maryland Cultural Database, which compiles financial and statistical data on arts organizations across the state. Two other organizations give statewide voice to the importance of the arts: Maryland Citizens for the Arts (MCA) advocates for funding of the Maryland State Arts Council and Art Education in Maryland Schools (AEMS) promotes the arts as a basic component of public education for all Maryland school children.
The past decade has also spawned a new era of cooperation among the government and philanthropic sectors in support of arts and culture. The
Baltimore Community Foundation has identified art and culture as one of its nine investment paths; The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund has decided to commit all of its resources, approximately $1 million annually, to arts and culture; and the Open Society Institute-Baltimore has found the culture sector fertile ground for initiating social change.
Current Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is a musician who cares deeply about the arts but is constrained by large budget deficits. (The city has been forced to reduce funding in many arenas, including the arts. There is currently a debate taking place in the city budget process about raising taxes and other funds to ameliorate these reductions.) The Baltimore Office for Promotion and the Arts (BOPA), assigned the city’s government arts portfolio in 2002 and now Baltimore’s arts council, has both raised the bar for artists and arts organizations and given the arts a passionate voice in every corner of city government. BOPA also organizes significant citywide events that throw a spotlight on arts and culture: in July, Artscape attracts a regional audience of 500,000 people to musical performances and visual arts exhibitions; and in September, the Baltimore Book Festival features authors and booksellers. Visit Baltimore, a complementary tax-supported entity and the region’s tourism marketing agency, has embarked on an ambitious program to support cultural tourism.
Within the city limits, there are two Arts & Entertainment Districts, Highlandtown Arts (ha!) and Station North, which have helped retain artists trained here as well as attract visual and performing artists from across the nation to Baltimore. The Mayor and BOPA have proposed creating a third district on the west side of the city. An additional district with an African-American focus is being explored for an area near the two sports stadiums in South Baltimore.
In the last half-decade, these forces have also acknowledged the value of recognizing individual artists by establishing two significant prize competitions, with the combined awards total $100,000 each year. In 2005, BOPA, in recognition of one of Baltimore’s towering civic leaders, the late Walter Sondheim, created a $25,000 prize for a visual artist named for him and his wife Janet. For the past three years, this competition has held its finalist exhibition at the BMA and its semi-finalist exhibition at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund established the Baker Artist Awards in 2008 to recognize Baltimore’s artists working in all disciplines and engage the public in supporting their work. The Baker Artist Awards, which since 2009 presents three $25,000 Mary Sawyers Baker Prize winners annually, invites nominations from artists through its website. (Visit www.bakerartistawards.org to view nominees and prizewinners.)
ART AND EDUCATION
Higher education, led by the sixteen member institutions in the Baltimore Collegetown Network, is also a supportive partner in the development of artists, artistic programs, and receptive audiences. These educational resources range from a leading visual arts school, MICA, to research powerhouse Johns Hopkins University (JHU) to historically black universities like Coppin State and Morgan State University to public universities UMBC and Towson University, both with nationally recognized arts programs, to strong community colleges. There are 120,000 students in four-year colleges and another 50,000 in community colleges in the city and surrounding counties. MICA, and JHU’s Peabody Institute, a distinguished music conservatory, insure that a continuing stream of young talent and new ideas are infused into the art scene. These emerging artists now come here because of Baltimore, not in spite of it; they perform and exhibit in the city while they study; and they often choose to live here after graduation. According to the Baltimore Collegetown Network, the fall 2009 class of entering freshman at area schools listed Baltimore as being one of the top five reasons they selected their college or university, noting its arts and music scene; vibrancy; affordable cost of living; and position at the center of the Mid-Atlantic art and culture corridor.
Andrés Alonso, CEO of the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS), has recognized the arts as a critical element of K-12 school reform. The dramatic improvement of public schools, since Alonso’s appointment in 2007, will greatly enhance Baltimore’s capacity to rebuild its population and economy. For two consecutive years, Baltimore has seen increased enrollment and an improvement in test scores. Dr. Alonso is seeking to empower principals in the system with full discretionary funding over their schools. With the resources to hire art teachers and run comprehensive art programs, schools formerly bereft of arts activities could now be filled with them, and the broader cultural community in Baltimore may be able to insinuate itself into a rapidly-changing school program. Arts Every Day, founded in 2006 and supported by BCPSS and national funders, provides professional development for teachers and principals and links schools with the resources available at cultural institutions. This new emphasis on arts education reflects a deeply held belief of Marylanders: ninety-five percent believe that the arts are a crucial aspect of education.
A CITY ON THE RISE
Baltimore is emerging from a challenged urban history characteristic of many rust belt cities in the Northeast and Midwest; socially, it faces stark contrasts of race and class. The city is strategically located just south of the Mason- Dixon Line, the historic divide between North and South. A major port and an industrial center in the nineteenth century, Baltimore experienced a precipitous economic decline in the second half of the twentieth century. The city lost its industrial base—textiles, steel production, and car manufacture—that had sustained a strong working and middle class and fueled local wealth. The public school system deteriorated. At a time when other cities were developing mass transit options, Baltimore remained and remains reliant on automobile transportation.
Long a destination for rural African-Americans, Baltimore became a city divided by race, with poverty the norm for much of its population. Decaying infrastructure and blighted neighborhoods became a significant problem, leading to the race riots of the 1960s, seemingly sealing the city’s fate. First white flight and then black flight resulted in a steep decline in population. From a high of 949,708 people in 1950, the city’s population declined consistently each decade, reaching its lowest point in 2000 at 636,251. There was an uptick in the city’s population in 2006, but the number of residents continues to vacillate, with no really substantial growth or loss.
Today, Baltimore remains demographically and economically distinct from the suburban communities that surround it. The city is 70% African-American, 30% Caucasian; the surrounding counties and indeed the state are the reverse. The city’s average median income is $30,078, half that of the surrounding counties ($60,771). Over twenty-four percent of the population has a college degree or greater; in the Greater Baltimore Metropolitan Area, this number is 34.3%. While the surrounding counties have successful public schools, the Baltimore City Public School System has experienced frequent turnover in leadership and been threatened with state takeover, but is now under strong and stable leadership and has made remarkable gains.
The city has a virtually unique political structure: it is an independent city, unaligned with a larger suburban county, and thus relies on its own limited governmental resources. There is a limited tradition of regional cooperation between Baltimore and its surrounding counties: Baltimore provides water for neighboring counties and several of the contiguous counties support the arts.
By 1980, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a deteriorating morass of warehouses and docks, was transformed by visionary urban planning, with the construction of Harborplace, the opening of the National Aquarium in Baltimore and a complement of hotels, retail space, and office space, this revitalized waterfront emerged as and remains a popular tourist destination. In the decade to follow, the development of two signature inner city sports stadiums—the Orioles at Camden Yards and the Ravens at M & T Stadium—enlivened the city.
Over the past decade, at least until the current economic downturn, there has been a new surge of urban development projects in Baltimore. The Johns Hopkins University took a leadership role in the redevelopment of the blocks surrounding its world revered hospital facility in East Baltimore, which will house a new a biotech park, and a new retail and residential development. Baltimore’s traditional downtown is linked to high-end development in Harbor East. In West Baltimore, the University of Maryland Medical System is undertaking similar work. Not far away, the long closed Hippodrome Theater became the France Merrick Performing Arts Center, a destination for Broadway quality performances; and a major redevelopment effort, a “superblock” of new construction, is in the offing. Despite the recession of the last few years, Baltimore still appears ready to embrace its dynamic form of stability.
The past decade also witnessed a turn-around in Baltimore’s residential prospects, now halted by the declining economy. Baltimore’s location made it a reasonably priced residential community within commuting distance from Washington. Downtown Baltimore and many of its historically colorful neighborhoods—Federal Hill, Fells Point, Mount Vernon, Roland Park, and Hampden—have been renewed. There was extensive new building of condominiums and town homes in areas like Harbor East, Canton, Reservoir Hill, Pleasant View Gardens and the major redevelopment of the Uplands neighborhood as well as Charles Village have attracted a new generation of urban dwellers. On the downside, gentrification has sometimes resulted in conflict and even displacement of the original population of these neighborhoods.
INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS MAKE A DIFFERENCE
A generation ago, many of Baltimore’s successful, now mid-sized cultural organizations emerged as pipe dreams of one artist or a small cooperative of artists. In fact, some visionary arts leaders are moving toward retirement and could be hiring some of the unabashed entrepreneurs surfacing among current young talent. Baltimore is a city where a committed creative individual can realize a unique idea or dream that contributes to the surrounding urban fabric. This has allowed for a thriving community of organizations, led and founded by artists, whose goals focus on fostering and supporting those who seek a career in art and performance. There are galleries and performance spaces run independently by artists, artist collectives, and “Do-It- Yourself” partners who operate outside of established arts organizations.
A rising creative class, comprised of young people who came of age in the anxious decade following 9/11, is growing rapidly in Baltimore. This generation leads art-full and artful lives: they consciously and conscientiously curate what they experience in life. Not what you earn or own, but what you create and experience makes the biggest statement about who you are. They get around on bicycles, not in cars, and eschewing consumerism, take pride in wearing vintage clothing and repurposing used furniture. They prefer to dwell communally, in postindustrial live/work spaces that double as art galleries and/or theatres, and/or live music venues. They have a strong sense of social justice, which is expressed in their art through their leadership of and engagement in murals, urban farming, and other community art projects.
The term trans-disciplinary—working in multiple modes of expression, often all at the same time—was coined for them. Certainly, they espouse liberal politics, if not anarchism. They are connected electronically as a community— from email and cell phones, to instant messaging and texting, to Facebook and Twitter. Nothing holds them back; this is a Do-It-Yourself generation. No one is waiting for permission. Best of all, the engine of this emerging arts community runs on artistic vision not commercial gain, allowing it to remain edgy, to challenge the establishment.
Many, but not all, of these culture-creators studied at MICA, which has embarked on a proactive plan to engage its artists with the city around it—through thoughtful educational programs and exhibitions, community arts initiatives, collaboration with other colleges and universities, museums, and community organizations, and finally, by community interventions like the Station North Arts & Entertainment District.
Now this is propelled not just by young people either born or educated in the Baltimore region, but also by those who come to the city by choice, not just as individuals, but as posses. Wham City, a transdisciplinary group started by graduates of SUNY, Purchase, and led by musician Dan Deacon, moved to Baltimore in 2004 propelling the emerging Baltimore band scene into the national spotlight. Other Baltimore performers in the national spotlight include indie rock duo, Beach House and beat boxer Shodekeh. The Single Carrot Theatre, a group of theater majors from the University of Colorado, Boulder, settled in Station North in 2006, after a nationwide search and another group, largely from James Madison University, founded the Baltimore Annex Theatre there in 2008.
On any weekend, and on many work week nights, there are many feet on the street in Baltimore. Young people plan, stage, and attend events—exhibitions, band shows, and edgy theatrical performances—and their work is attracting both increasing critical attention and a widening audience.
Even in this tough new economic environment, and despite difficulties experienced by larger, established institutions, more nimble emerging organizations are still proliferating in Baltimore. New non-profits and even entrepreneurial startups with evolving governance and finances are more numerous than ever before and inject the city with a vibrant, young energy. In December 2009, the Baltimore Community Foundation distributed fifteen “confetti” grants—modest amounts of money that recognized the significance of this growing sector of theatres, galleries, and transdisciplinary performance spaces. These new groups draw attendees of arts-interested young people, a potential audience for a vibrant cultural community made up of all disciplines and all sizes.
MOMENTUM: A SENSE OF URGENCY
There is a qualitative difference between Baltimore today and ten years ago. Baltimore has bootstrapped its way into the upper echelons of cities that are using business models and market research to change the looming paradigm: aging audiences, the onslaught of competition for engaged audiences, and a deficit of art education in the schools despite recent gains. With few dollars to spare, the Baltimore arts and culture community has accomplished much in bringing the sector face to face with the future with technology as an essential tool.
Large organizations have been stable, financially and programmatically, and they have learned to work together as partners in a common cause. Nonetheless, the city has been severely hit by the current economic downturn and its significant budget deficits will impact the arts and culture sector profoundly. When the Baltimore Opera Company closed its doors in 2009, it was a wake-up call about just how fragile even established organizations could become. Mid-size organizations, with ambitious programs but more limited donor bases, may be even more vulnerable in the current economic climate. Arts institutions of all sizes will need to shift their fundraising from public to private sources, and to do that they will need to grow audience participation and commitment.
Any participation building strategy for the region must address more than the raw numbers in levels of participation, consider rebuilding the community psyche of ownership over our cultural assets. The pride of place of decades past, rooted in art, education, and cultural assets as symbols of civic achievement and erudition, has seriously eroded.
Now is the time to consider any number of scenario-changing questions:
- Could the Greater Baltimore region acknowledge that city arts and culture assets build the quality of life for everyone in Central Maryland and that these assets merit equitable support from the surrounding counties?
- Could we join in common cause with our companion quality-of-life enterprises, such as parks and libraries, to advance this agenda?
- Could we convince more of our fellow citizens to see Baltimore’s quality-of-life assets as opportunities for personal investment—through volunteer service and individual donations to arts and culture?
- How can the arts and culture sector broaden and diversify its audience through better collective marketing and promotion? What role will arts and culture institutions and artists have in the twenty-first century?
- How will arts and culture institutions change established paradigms to reflect the generational and demographic shifts of the last ten years?
To get the conversation going, let’s establish a public conversation on this website—click here and share your ideas for the future of the arts and culture in the Greater Baltimore area!
ARTS COMMUNITY TIMELINE
Symposium “Building Audiences for the Arts” takes place at Villa Julie College (now Stevenson University).
Artists gather informally to discuss collective action to bring the arts community in Baltimore together.
A group of practicing artists and leaders of arts organizations incubate the Baltimore Arts Advocates (later Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance or GBCA).
GBCA symposium, “The Arts as a Magnet for Baltimore,” is presented at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Working with outside consultants, GBCA conducts an opportunity analysis that informs the formation and development of the organization.
The Greater Baltimore Cultural Summit formally launches GBCA, which incorporates as a member-based organization.
Station North Arts & Entertainment District, the first of its kind in Baltimore City, receives State designation.
Mayor’s Committee for Arts and Culture merges with Baltimore Office for the Promotion to create Baltimore Office for the Promotion and the Arts (BOPA), now the City’s Arts Council.
Baltimore Heritage Area is State certified.
GBCA starts Radar Magazine, a pocket-sized magazine, which morphs into an electronic format in 2003.
Highlandtown Arts District receives State designation as an arts and entertainment district.
GBCA retains Ken Hatter to conduct a Collaborative Arts Marketing Study for 14 small and mid-sized Baltimore arts organizations.
Baltimore arts community draws together to create VIVAT!, an ambitious citywide festival.
In collaboration with Baltimore Clayworks, over 80 venues participate in Tour De Clay, to coincide with the National Conference of Ceramic Educators.
Ford Foundation provides seed funding for Baltimore Partners for Enhanced Learning, later Arts Every Day, Inc., which focuses on arts integration into Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS), and access to arts and cultural institutions for public school students.
GBCA brings the Cultural Data Project to Maryland. In partnership with the MSAC, the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, the Baltimore Community Foundation, Maryland Historical Trust and several other foundations, the Maryland CDP becomes fully operational in 2007.
BOPA starts Free Fall Baltimore: A city wide festival that promotes access to the arts through a two month long schedule of free programs.
BOPA initiates the Walter and Janet Sondheim Prize of $25,000, awarded to a regional artist through a juried process. MICA exhibits the semifinalists and finalists.
BOPA announces a new competitive grant program for the arts in Baltimore increased available funding for organizations from $200,000 to $1 million.
Artscape, a citywide arts festival celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Sondheim finalist exhibition moves to BMA and BOPA begins to seek endowment to sustain the prize.
Dr. Andrés Alonso, an advocate for arts integration, is appointed C.E.O. of BCPSS after revolving door of leadership (four different C.E.O.s in four years).
Thomas Noonan is appointed C.E.O. of Baltimore Area Convention and Visitor Association (BACVA), the fourth C.E.O. in four years.
William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund decides to dedicate its assets, $30 million, to funding the arts.
BOPA presents Free Fall Baltimore II.
Artscape expands its traditional footprint, extending its venues and presentations into Station North, meeting and embracing Whartscape, previously a renegade local artist counterpoint to Artscape.
GBCA launches RadarRedux.net an online media broadcast network to provide rich content through video, radio and other media covering Baltimore’s broad cultural scene. The Site develops further through a MICA/ JHU collaborative class taught by RadarRedux.net Editor.
In collaboration with a Walters Art Museum exhibition, GBCA oversees the citywide Festival of Maps.
BOPA presents Free Fall Baltimore III. Due to budget cuts, no grants awarded to support programs by large organizations, which nonetheless make their venues available at cost to small organization partners.
William G. Baker, Jr., Fund launches Baker Artist Awards.
GBCA with support of the MSAC and local Foundations and City and County Arts Councils initiate the Maryland Cultural Data Project.
Multiple partners explore “The Mechanics of Partnership: Arts and Baltimore City Public Schools.”
First Baker Artist Awards presented.
A broad spectrum of cultural organizations participates in the Edgar Allan Poe Festival, Nevermore 2009.
Baltimore Community Foundation issues “confetti grants” to emerging arts groups.
Kresge Foundation launches two-year program with Community Arts and Engagement Grants.
2010 – 2011
The arts community is alive and well! A great work in progress! Get out and see what’s going on!
Written by Nancy Haragan and Doreen Bolger, 2010