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Fifty performing artists recognized with monetary grants from the Maryland State Arts Council

Jazz saxophonist Carl Grubbs, of Gwynn Oak, is one of six Baltimore County recipients of a monetary award for performing artists from the Maryland State Arts Council.
Jazz saxophonist Carl Grubbs, of Gwynn Oak, is one of six Baltimore County recipients of a monetary award for performing artists from the Maryland State Arts Council.(Richard A. Smith III)

The Maryland State Arts Council has recognized 50 artists, including six from Baltimore County, for its annual Independent Artist awards, which honor performing artists statewide.

Representing 10 counties and Baltimore City, recipients received a grant of $2,000, $10,000 or $25,000 to support their continued artistic growth, according to a press release.

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Focusing on independent artists, the award comes at a time when the performing arts industry has been disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ken Skrzesz, executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council, said the award recognizes independent artists who display artistic excellence.

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One of the ways the council has been able to support independent artists is through the award, he said.

“[The award] is more about recognition of accomplishment,” he said. “[The grant] supports independent artists in their future projects.”

He said he hopes the award will help independent artists who have been out of work during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We hope the award gives artists encouragement and breathing room so they can fully focus on creating work,” he said. “We are hearing that this funding is crucial for their survival at this time.”

To be considered for the award, independent artists send an application to the arts council that is reviewed by panel and they are notified of the decisions in April.

Harold Burgess of Columbia, who is program director at the University of Maryland and works as a lighting designer for regional theaters, received $2,000, according to the arts council.

Since the pandemic, he has been teaching classes online and advising lighting at Round House Theatre in Bethesda through Zoom. Meanwhile, three shows he had lined up between March and June were canceled, he said.

He said he was excited to receive the award. As a lighting designer, he said his job is to remain unseen to keep the audience engaged in the story.

“[It’s] really nice to be recognized for that,” he said.

Despite his recognition, he said he is concerned about his fellow artists.

“Part of me feels a little guilty that there are so many artists that are out of work,” he said. “I’m fortunate I have another job that allows me to pay my bills, but I don’t know how I feel about trying to share that in a broader sense because there are people without work at all.”

He said he hopes to put the monetary award toward purchasing software that allows lighting designers to develop and transmit lighting designs remotely.

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In a challenging time for artists, he said he appreciates the support.

“[It’s] great to be in a state that appreciates the arts like Maryland does and that it is still highly valued in a health crisis,” he said.

In addition to lighting design, artists received awards for film composition, dance, guitar, percussion and violin performance and puppetry.

Like Burgess, Carl Grubbs, of Gwynn Oak, received $2,000.

After retiring from a 24-year-long career as jazz band director at St. Paul’s School in Brooklandville, he planned to focus his career on playing saxophone in jazz bands.

Since the pandemic, he said he had several concerts lined up that were canceled, causing him to reconsider his next steps.

He said receiving the award means a great deal to him.

“Now that I’m retired, I knew things were going to slow down,” he said. “For [the arts council] to recognize me as an artist gives me the spark to keep moving ahead.”

Other Baltimore County recipients are jazz and world musicians The Anansi Trio; classical guitarist Zane Forshee, and woodwind specialist Seth Kibel, who were awarded $2,000 each; violinist Airi Yoshioka, who was awarded $10,000; and choreographer and dancer Allen Chunhui Xing, who was awarded $25,000.

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