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May 17, 2010

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.)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:14 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Local music


I think you mean Everyman Theater, not Theater Project.

IMHO, if the city wants to build arts districts from the top down, they need a two-pronged approach:

1. Tax breaks (and possibly other subsidies like down payment grants or no interest improvement loans)

2. Programs in which the city patronizes the same artists it wishes to colonize. Public art projects, sign and banner design, art in city buildings, etc should all be commissioned locally, and those commissions should be granted to artists living in the districts whenever possible.

I wonder if you built an art focused residential building / non-profit execucenter, similar to what Seawall Development did at Millers Court that would increase the arts related activities in the area and lure more artists to the area.

At Millers Court city teachers get a discounted rent. The project was a great success and now they're doing something similar at Union Mill in Hampden.

Wouldn't MICA graduates be interested in a place like that?

Once again the Sun has miss-characterized Arts Districts in general and the Highlandtown Arts District in particular. You mention two larger institutions in the district but you don't mention the multitude of public art projects, programming and smaller organizations like our gallery ( and

If you bothered to visit other arts districts throughout the state you would that most don't resemble Station North which has the benefit of an internationally known art school and Univerity of Baltimore to anchor the area. No top down there.

Highlandtown does not lack in warehouses spaces and we gain in actual residents. Why not mention the dozens of artists in Crown Cork & Seal and the many artisans sprinkled in shops and warehouse lthroughout the neighborhood. Oh, and while we're at it let's mention that there are at least three studio development projects in the works.

Don't sell us short. Find out the facts before you speak.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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