More on the proposed West Side Arts District
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about why declaring Baltimore's West Side an arts district isn't the solution. It sparked a flurry of comments from people who agreed and disagreed with me.
While I lounged on a dais eating grapes and drinking wine, arts writer Mary McCauley did some actual reporting on the topic. McCauley talked to officials from Baltimore's two arts districts, as well as an expert or two.
Here is a link to her piece, which ran in yesterday's paper.
McCauley spoke with Chris Ryer, coordinator of the Highlandtown Arts and Entertainment District, who thinks the city hung his district out to dry.
Ryer doesn't get any funding, and little has come of the city's decision to make the neighborhood an arts district ...
From the piece:
In 2003, the city waved the policy equivalent of a magic wand and declared that a new arts district had been created in an area encompassing Highlandtown, Patterson Park, and parts of Canton and Greektown. Then, officials sat back and waited for hordes of artists to turn up and bring about urban renewal. Seven years later, they're still waiting. ...
"From the beginning, we were wrongly conceived," Ryer says."Arts districts were originally thought of as being devices to revitalize old, industrial areas — not residential neighborhoods with 3,000 rowhouses. My guess is that we don't have more than 50 or 60 artists living in the whole area."
Wait, you mean, city officials can't grow an arts district from scratch just by declaring it and arts district and offering a few tax breaks? No way!
What about the Station North Arts and Entertainment District? The status as an arts district has definitely helped the area gel into a more cohesive community, officials said. But most of the changes have come from the bottom up -- not the top down.
After all, it was the community of artists, educators and business leaders who banded together to form Station North Inc., a nonprofit agency with an annual budget of about $100,000 that coordinates activities in the district.
So would it work on the West Side? Maybe, according to McCauley's piece. The West Side does have the Bromo Seltzer Tower, Hippodrome, Eubie Blake Center and H&H Building, and the Theatre Project is supposed to move there next year.
I still don't think declaring the area an arts district is going to make much of a difference.
(Chris Ryer, right, coordinator of the Highlandtown Arts and Entertainment District, with Margaret Footner, executive director and co-founder of the Creative Alliance at the Patterson, behind them on Eastern Avenue. The Creative Alliance is the only functioning arts organization in the Arts and Entertainment district, and Ryer's work on the district is a challenge because it is unfunded. Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis.)