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News Opinion Op-Eds

Shining a light on Baltimore's arts scene

On Tuesday, three Baltimore-area artists will each win $25,000 for the Baker Artist Awards and a select few will discover they are finalists for the $25,000 Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize. We should all be celebrating. These major awards shine a bright spotlight on Baltimore, the talented artists in our community and the extraordinary amount of support we give them each year.

Baltimore has a remarkable creative class — painters and sculptors, new media artists, graphic designers, architects, filmmakers, musicians, actors, writers and many artists who work with equal capacity in more than one of these disciplines. We are also fortunate to have such a devoted network of arts supporters to nurture the creativity that distinguishes our city.

The quality of life in our city is considerably enhanced by art resources far beyond its current size and wealth. Baltimore has world-class museums, an internationally recognized symphony orchestra, vibrant theater, and even a rebirth of opera, not to mention the talented faculty and students attracted by opportunities at Peabody Conservatory, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and other colleges and universities thriving across the region. We have two remarkable arts and entertainment districts — Station North and Highlandtown — offering cultural events throughout the year. Rolling Stone recently acknowledged Baltimore as an important center for independent music. We have significant annual arts presenters, from the Maryland Film Festival each spring to High Zero for experimental music each fall. Every summer, Baltimore hosts Artscape, the largest free arts festival in the nation, and citywide, there have been great strides in accessibility, with free and affordable admission to arts events.

These arts events and institutions offer experiences that not only engage our minds and hearts, but also help bring us together as a community. Furthermore, the arts generate critical growth in Baltimore, driving economic development by encouraging tourists to visit and businesses to take root.

It takes an ecosystem to maintain this arts resource: strong arts organizations, an enthusiastic audience, policy and financial support from government, philanthropic generosity from businesses and individuals, and especially the talent and dedication of practicing artists in all disciplines. We need to retain these artists and attract more.

Artists are greatly encouraged by Baltimore's arts awards. The Sondheim Artscape Prize, presented by the mayor and the Baltimore Office for Promotion and the Arts since 2007, is named for great civic leader Walter Sondheim and his wife Janet. Every year, a distinguished jury reviews submissions from artists in the region and selects 40 semi-finalists, all of whom are offered an opportunity to exhibit at MICA from July 15 to 31. Tuesday, the pool will be narrowed to six finalists who will be presented at the BMA from June 25 to August 7. The ultimate $25,000 prize winner will be announced at a free community-wide event held at the museum July 9.

The Baker Artist Awards were initiated in 2008-2009 by the trustees of the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund, the largest arts-dedicated foundation in Baltimore. Artists in all disciplines from the city and the five surrounding counties are welcome to nominate themselves on an interactive website, BakerArtistAwards.org. This year, nearly 700 artists competed for the three $25,000 Mary Sawyers Baker Awards that will be announced on Maryland Public Television Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Eighteen additional artists were awarded $1,000 b-grants. Both the Baker Awards and b-grant winners will exhibit or perform at the BMA from Sept. 7 to Oct. 2, and a free late-night event is scheduled for Oct. 1.

Every artist needs an audience — and you need the inspiration and insight these great artists will provide.

Doreen Bolger is director of the Baltimore Museum of Art and serves on the boards of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, Maryland Citizens for the Arts, the D:center, and Station North Arts & Entertainment District. She blogs for the Sun at Art-Full Life, http://charmcitycurrent.com/bolger.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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