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Leaders come together to sketch future of art in Prince George’s County

StateOfTheArtsCHEVERLY – Prince George’s County’s biggest names in the creative community were all under one roof for a historic meeting Monday night to talk about the future of the county arts scene.

Rhonda Dallas and the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council hosted the first-ever “State of the Arts” to bring together county art and development leaders to talk about the thriving art community in the county and how best to support it now and in the future.

“This is really a big moment,” said Dallas, the executive director of the arts and humanities council. “It’s the first time that artists, county leadership, the private sector, arts organizations and academia have all shared this common space to have a serious dialogue around advancing the arts and creative industries throughout Prince George’s County.”

Members of the arts and humanities council, Americans for the Arts, county leadership, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), Prince George’s Community College (PGCC), county developers, and executives from arts institutions such as Pyramid Atlantic, Artworks Now, and Joe’s Movement Emporium all came to the Publick Playhouse in Cheverly on Oct. 30 to be a part of the discussion.

Jim Coleman, the chief executive officer of the county Economic Development Corporation, led a panel of county, education and development leaders in a discussion about supporting the arts and the future of the arts, while Martin Wollesen, the director of The Clarice Smith Performing Arts center, led local art organization leaders through a panel discussion on their needs and desires for art in Prince George’s County.

Planning board Chair Elizabeth Hewlett said now is a great time for the arts in the county, and while many on the panels agreed with that statement, they felt more can and should be done to further arts culture in Prince George’s. Much of that discussion centered on what artists want to see in the future for the county and how best to get there.

Scott Peterson, who was the representative for the county executive, County Councilman Mel Franklin and county Chamber of Commerce President David Harrington talked about creating a strategic economic plan for the arts in the county. That plan, said Charlene Dukes, president of PGCC, must transcend politics, county executive administrations and changes in the county, as well.

“It has to be a plan that transcends any kind of term in office. We have to think bigger. We have to think longer and we have to have a broader view of the arts and never lose sight of that, no matter who’s sitting in the county executive seat, no matter who is sitting in the legislative seat or the like,” Dukes said. “It’s about us. It’s not about any one individual.”

Throughout the discussion, county and art leaders alike spoke about the importance of art to the community and how it is “at the center of everything.” Franklin reiterated several times that arts and creativity must be recognized not as an additive, but as essential to human life. And it should be funded as thus.

“The arts aren’t an extra. It’s essential and that mentality has to inject into all of our thinking,” he said. “We need to strategically think about ‘how do we leverage every dollar so that we maximize it for the arts,’ as we maximize it for everything else.”

More funding was something everyone could get behind. Both the county leader panel and the arts leader panel talked about the cost of supporting the arts the needs of both nonprofits and art small businesses in the community. Residents who asked questions also queried about art housing, studio spaces and grants.

Dakiya Lambert, the artistic director of Dance Dimensions, pointed to her own organization’s quest to expand.

“Affordable space is difficult. As we’re looking for new space, we’re finding out that to house our organization it would be $21,000 or $17,000 a month and we’re not doing that well yet,” she said.

Others spoke about creating “incubators” for community artists where they can gather and be inspired by each other. However, incubators require studio space and housing, both of which do not come cheap. Artists who had a chance to ask the panel questions asked about the county providing low-cost housing and free studio spaces to artists.

That would require further investments from the county government, but “the arts” have a perception problem, according to the panel. Art is viewed as a high-brow entity, only enjoyed by the wealthy and the educated and as – not for everyone and therefore a luxury able to be cut.

But the night began with a discussion on what the arts bring to a community and, yes, that does include income.

Nicholas Cohen, the director of Maryland citizens for the Arts and Patricia Walsh, public art program manager for Americans for the Arts, gave a presentation on the monetary value of art in a community and talked about the benefits “beyond quality of life” enhancements.

Walsh said the arts contributed to $166.3 billion in spending nationwide in 2015.

“They actually do bring in money,” she said. “And they bring in money other ways. They support jobs. Across the United States 4.6 million people are employed due the arts and this isn’t just artists, curators and musicians. We’re also talking about paying builders, plumbers, accountants, printers.”

At the Prince George’s level, Cohen said there is almost $60 million in spending between the organizations and their audiences. That does not include the price of tickets for art events, but instead calculates all the ways audiences spend money.

For example that would include eating at a nearby diner after an art show, transportation costs or even paying for childcare to attend a concert.

“All that money that was spent around arts, it’s bringing local dollars to the local community, not just the arts center – the local restaurants, the Uber driver, the caretaker. It just shows you the kind of depth of what the arts can do for the local economy,” Cohen said.

For the art leaders in Prince George’s County, these numbers just solidify what they already knew: art has tremendous value in this community. They believe it is time they are compensated for it.

“They know what the arts attract and look at the people before us. They realize the value of our work and we have to make sure they aren’t appropriated without ensuring we are fairly compensated for this impact,” said Brooke Kidd, the executive director of Joe’s Movement Emporium.

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