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Group lays out vision for arts' future in county Council's report reflects community's concerns


If the Howard County Arts Council has its way, county residents will focus on the arts with a clearer vision in the next 10 years.

The council recently released "Arts Vision 2001," a report that lists ways to boost arts and culture in the county in the next decade.

It's "a reflection" of what 4,575 artists, business leaders, educators and citizens told the council during cultural-assessment interviews and surveys by the council, the 53-page report said.

"What we've found is the arts are important to the community," said Mary E. Toth, the council's executive director.

The study, which also included advice from 12 arts-related focus groups, identifies four themes to promote lifelong art appreciation in the county. The themes are location, space, funding and education.

First, the council suggested the community should take advantage of its location between Baltimore and Washington by developing partnerships with the arts in those areas.

Second, it said, county institutions and businesses should work together to provide space for the arts.

Third, the county should develop a plan to increase government, foundation and individual funding for the arts here. Establishing a United Fund for the Arts in Howard County also was suggested.

Finally, the arts should be made part of the school curriculum, the report said. The council recommended implementing a preschool arts program throughout the county that would cost between $75,000 to $100,000 yearly, and establishing an office of fine and performing arts in the education department.

"People in this community are very interested in education, not just [kindergarten through high school], but lifelong," Toth said.

The plan also calls for advocating the county arts, strengthening arts organizations, supporting artists, strengthening the arts council, providing opportunities for multicultural arts and encouraging public participation.

The cultural-needs assessment and the 10-year plan were the first parts of a three-pronged arts evaluation.

In 1989, the council contacted the county government to help assess the county's cultural needs. Arts consultant Joseph Wesley Zeigler assisted during the assessment and the plan in 1991.

The last component is a cost study, which will be done during the next year,to determine the exact costs of the initiatives, Toth said.

Some of the recommendations could be cost-free if county organizations worked together, the report concluded. Others will require money from the county education department and other departments.

For example, part of the cost of renovating Wilde Lake High School's auditorium into an 800- to 1,000-seat music and dance performance arts facility has been budgeted already by the Board of Education. If the National Endowment for the Arts grants a fund for the expansion, the arts council will contribute $100,000.

In addition, to serving the school's needs, Toth said the auditorium will serve as a central community performing arts center, a first for the county.

During the coming weeks, the council will work with artists, community and business leaders to implement the recommendations.

The report "is a vision of what we could be like," Toth said, adding that "some of it is really an attitude change."

For years, music, dance, visual arts and the theater have been under-served in Howard for several reasons, including lack of money and space. Also, across the nation, there's a misconception that the arts are "elitism," Toth said. She said that misconception, partly the fault of artists who sought wealthy patrons, has to change to include the grass roots.

The arts council wants the arts to become "woven into people's lives," Toth said.

"The key to supporting cultural institutions nationwide is to educate people at a younger age about the arts. (The arts) shouldn't be an unusual experience."

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