Findings from Citizen Artist Baltimore 2016 Listening Sessions and Surveys, and adapted according to the impact of the current COVID19 crisis, Spring 2020
Baltimore is home to thousands of voters who are also artists, theatre, concert, and museum-goers, and people who work in the arts and humanities. They are known to care about core civic issues like equity, public safety and education, and their votes can also be strongly influenced by candidates’ positions on arts and culture.
On behalf of Citizen Artist Baltimore (CAB), a broad-based, nonpartisan get-out-the-vote coalition, we write now to share the priorities of the cultural community and asked that Mayoral Candidates respond to a questionnaire about their arts platform. The candidates’ positions are shared on the CAB web site and distributed widely through many networks including those of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (GBCA), Maryland Citizens for the Arts (MCA), and Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)—all founding partners of CAB.
Established in the 2016 election cycle, CAB integrates cultural voices into the electoral process, encourages voter registration and voting, and engages with issues of critical importance to Baltimore City residents. Although the COVID19 crisis has turned society and the economy on its head, the arts remain a critical and driving force in Baltimore City. As of 2017, the arts had a $606 million economic impact in Baltimore City and included more than 15,000 jobs according to Americans for the Arts.
Today, the sector continues to play a vital role in providing resources for online education and home- schooling, transforming maker spaces and costume shops to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPEs), and providing resources that support mental health and connectivity as residents live in isolation. Artists and organizations will also be valuable partners in healing, and the rebuilding that lies ahead. Artists are citizens of Baltimore, and their contributions are essential to the City’s ever-evolving reality.
The current pandemic crisis has exacerbated existing inequities in the city. Rates of infection are higher among Black and low-income communities, as are the structural barriers of job insecurity, a lack of health insurance, and inadequate housing. Many artists are part of these communities and are now also finding it difficult, if not impossible, to access unemployment benefits and relief funding.
Thank you in advance for reviewing Citizen Artist Baltimore’s Priorities Statement as sourced from the arts and cultural community. CAB is here to engage with you, so please visit CitizenArtist.vote to learn more.
Jeannie L. Howe, Executive Director, Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance
Nicholas Cohen, Executive Director, MD Citizens for the Arts
Sheri Parks, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, Maryland Institute College of Art
Culture / community value(s) / health
Baltimore’s strength lies in the flourishing creativity of its diverse communities. Arts and culture are everywhere: from marching bands and choirs to murals, gardens, museums, theaters, and DJ nights. Culture has always brought life to the city. It empowers people to express themselves creatively while connecting with deep traditions and supporting themselves and their communities.
Personal expression is not only a joy, but a necessity. Day-by-day, cultural organizers and community groups practice the healing power of art through programs such as after school poetry productions, drawing classes, dance, mentoring, and more. Year-round, grassroots level cultural organizations and programming make invaluable contributions to the health and wellness of communities throughout the city. Places like neighborhood art centers, churches, and barbershop galleries serve as anchors to their communities and sources of positive energy. That Baltimore City thrives on culture is not just a downtown or arts district phenomenon – it’s happening on streets and blocks throughout the city. Culture is who we are, the landscape and built environment in which we exist, and must be respected, embraced, preserved, and supported for the benefit of all.
Marketing / promotion / City Identity
Baltimore City’s cultural renaissance is being led by long-term residents as well as inspired new arrivals. Arts and culture is one of the most effective and genuine ways to represent our city nationally and abroad. Branding and promoting the city with its cultural assets will socially and economically benefit local artists, creative producers, cultural groups, and the city as a whole. The city should do what it can to cultivate local, national and global media outlets covering the positive stories of Baltimore’s ongoing arts and cultural successes. The arts and cultural sector contributes to, and defines not only Baltimore’s narrative, but most importantly, to defining the City’s identity and pride.
City officials leading internal and public conversations need to be mindful of using empowering language when representing our people and places on city websites and through city publications. The words we use affect public perception of communities. Baltimore is more than a city of “at risk” individuals living in “disenfranchised” neighborhoods. We are a collection of resilient communities led by powerful people working together to overcome the very tangible effects of long-term economic and racial challenges. Baltimore’s legacy of survival and success is a story interwoven with our unique arts and cultural expressions. For the benefit of our neighbors, ourselves, and our city—leaders must put our best and truest faces forward by representing Baltimore as a creative place of strength and celebration and leverage the voices of artists and creators as storytellers and communicators intrinsic to creating our City’s identity and narrative.
“The future belongs to young people with the education and imagination to create.” – President Barack Obama
For the children of Baltimore City, the future can’t wait. According to the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR), districts are required to provide every student, every year with an instructional program in visual art, music, theater, dance and media arts. Despite this mandate, access to the arts in Baltimore City remains woefully unequal with only 75% of all Pk-8 students enrolled in visual art, less than 50% enrolled in music and only a handful of dance and theatre programs across the district. Baltimore City Schools CEO, Dr. Sonja Santelises and her administration adopted a Fine Arts Strategic Plan in 2017 setting the ambitious goal of all Pk-8th grade students enrolled in visual art and music by the year 2022.
Implementation began in School Year 2019-20 with the hiring of an additional 30 new Fine Arts teachers positions. Why are the arts a critical component of Baltimore City’s PreK-12 education? Here are just a few reasons:
- Academic, Social and Emotional Benefits: Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. Students with access to an arts rich education are more likely to graduate on time and become civically engaged as adults. Studies show that an arts rich education helps students develop an improved understanding of social relationships and complex emotional issues as well as a greater capacity for positive self- expression, social tolerance, and self-confidence.
- Employability: So-called ‘soft skills’ become more important to employers with each passing year. According to Forbes Magazine, 7 out of the 10 most sought after skills are skills that the arts are uniquely positioned to teach. These include: critical thinking, adaptability and flexibility, creativity, emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, leadership skills, decision making, and collaboration.
- Attracting and Retaining Families: Nearly every other district in the State of Maryland offers students a comprehensive education in at least visual art, general music and instrumental music. As arts data by school and district becomes available through Artlook MD, an interactive data map charting arts access statewide, families will be able to quickly and easily compare schools and districts across the State. Lastly, Baltimore City is THE destination for world class arts and culture in the State of Maryland. Our children deserve a world class arts rich public school system to match.
Economic Impact / funding / business & workforce development /space
Studies reveal that the economic impact of the arts in Baltimore City is substantial and significantly larger than in other similar cities. (See 2015 data from Americans for the Arts report, below).
- ● There are more than 15,000+ full time equivalent jobs in the arts. This is double the median number found in similar size regions.
- ● The sector generates $27 million in Local Government Revenue.
- ● Nonprofit Arts & Culture attendees spend an average of $25.62 per person at area restaurants, garages, etc. not including cost of admission to events. (Source: Americans for the Arts)
Arts and culture clearly brings great value to the city of Baltimore. CAB participants expressed desire for a city department devoted to the specific needs of the nonprofit arts and culture sector, just as the city provides for small businesses. By assisting the arts with tax incentives, job training, small business development, planning and permitting, space allocation, and more, such a department would ensure the growth of this economic sector in a way that benefits people across all parts of Baltimore and generate a strong return on investment.
At the State level, the return on investment for the annual arts appropriation is 4:1. (Maryland State Arts Council Arts Impact Study 2018)
2015 TOTAL Economic Impact of the Nonprofit Arts and Culture Industry in the City of Baltimore
(Spending by Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences)
|City of Baltimore||Median of
Similar Study Regions
Pop. = 500,000 to 999,999
|Full-Time Equivalent Jobs||
|Resident Household Income||
|Local Government Revenue||
|State Government Revenue||
Grants / funding
CAB participants felt strongly that funding should be more equally distributed to both established and grassroots arts organizations led by and benefiting communities of color – and specifically Baltimore’s Black-led organizations and majority Black population. Groups and artists operating at the grassroots level and/or not partnered with anchor institutions must have fair access to funding, as reflected in the City’s Sustainability plan adopted in 2019, Furthermore, the city needs to do a better job of making individual artists of color and smaller neighborhood organizations aware of government funding opportunities. City-run arts grants need well-advertised and accessible information sessions as well as grant writing workshops and technical assistance so that future applicants can level the playing field and increase their chances of success.
The funding formula for nonprofit arts organizations is a combination of earned revenue and contributed support. The latter is a three-legged stool: Individual, Corporate/Foundation, and Government. The State of Maryland commits more than $16 million a year to the arts. In most jurisdictions this public support is matched in some ratio by the local government. Baltimore needs to create and commit to an annual appropriation to support the nonprofit arts and culture sector, and establish a funding system equally accessible to artists and organizations from every corner of the city. Grants and funding should cover individual artists and small businesses as well as nonprofit arts organizations, as they are all important parts of a healthy ecosystem. Consistent and equitable support is the only way to ensure that the assets of the cultural community will work for all of Baltimore’s citizens.
Through its listening sessions CAB found that creative space for art-making also serves as a much- needed foundation for cohesive communities and civic life. Like populations throughout the city, Baltimore’s creative community feels the strain of finding and maintaining affordable housing. We advocate for housing solutions that are mindful of the needs of low-income populations, including those who identify as artists and cultural producers. The preservation and maintenance of existing working art spaces, many of which are located in former industrial space, is critical to the health of the creative community as well as the future growth of small manufacturing in our city. We advocate for preservation of existing industrial space for artistic production and other forms of light manufacturing, rather than only enabling the conversion of these existing spaces for residential development.
Baltimore’s creative communities face numerous administrative and bureaucratic barriers to establishing and maintaining physical space for arts-related purposes. Streamlining the purchase or lease of city- owned property through programs such as Vacants to Value would be of great utility to Baltimore’s creative communities and the broader citizen base. Additionally, simplifying the permitting process and giving greater consideration to arts-use zoning and building code modifications for arts spaces would bolster the success rate of creative entrepreneurs looking to sustain existing art spaces or add new ones to the city’s cultural ecosystem.
Safe, reliable, and affordable public transportation is necessary for the health of Baltimore’s creative communities, as well as the health of the city as a whole. We advocate for incorporating the talents of Baltimore’s creative communities into the city’s transportation planning efforts through activities consisting of, but not limited to: enhancing bicycle infrastructure, local visual art on the interior and exterior of buses and light rail, public art as traffic calming, and artist designed wayfinding.
Equitable Digital Infrastructure
Access to the Internet is vital to the health of the creative communities, our schools, and the sustained growth of other sectors. The city should create a comprehensive plan for implementing broadband in every neighborhood and treat the adoption of citywide broadband as it would any other public utility. This is particularly urgent during the COVID pandemic requirement for homeschooling. Students, all of whom are entitled to an education, do not have equal access to computers and/or the Internet at home.
Arts agenda / developing strategies / cultural plan
Baltimore has a wide array of organizations and artists who embody the strength of Baltimore City. Over the past fifteen years and with the support of the Mayor’s office, Baltimore has established and/or grown four state-designated arts districts and world class festivals such as Artscape and Light City Baltimore. The City has continued to provide support to Baltimore’s anchor institutions including those that steward city-owned collections. A wide range of awards and grants encourage artists to live and produce work in their hometown, and there is an ever-growing number of entreprenuers and makers who are driving a growth in social enterprises businesses. Community-based artists have made important contributions in the lives of children and organizations large and small have given them access to art while very little is provided in school.
Yet ,there is no cohesive and strategy to equitably focus and support cultural assets and the entire arts ecosystem and little recognition for the ways in which the cultural sector drives the success of the City beyond economics. Now is the time to develop a multi-year strategic approach to arts and culture, one that in other cities has taken the form of a cultural plan, or cultural agenda.
Issues of importance that could be addressed through a highly inclusive planning process include:
- ● Motivating regional cooperation.
- ● Developing dedicated funding streams for arts and culture.
- ● Meeting the needs of and supporting grassroots/neighborhood level efforts along with those of
larger cultural organizations.
- ● Including the cultural sector and creative workers in decision-making across city departments and
mobilizing artists to increase civic engagement.
- ● Developing a process that empowers community voices.
The plan could also better define and empower the role of the City’s cabinet level position for the arts, and might even identify a Chief of Arts & Culture to foster arts in the City.