xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Capitalizing on Baltimore's creative strength

When I moved to Baltimore 18 months ago to serve as president of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), I came with a conviction that the city's vigorous arts scene and creative endeavors could play an essential role in building a brighter future for Baltimore.

I see how this happens every day on and around MICA's campus, as the Station North Arts and Entertainment District area has been transformed into a new arts hub. In a gritty neighborhood that has historically been neglected, art, design, music, architecture and film are injecting new vibrancy and hope. Creative and social entrepreneurs are establishing enterprises in repurposed spaces, alongside long-time residents — all, together, taking pride in vividly painted murals and gardens around them.

Advertisement

The arts can spur so much for a city.

Our city continues to be the focus of national scrutiny and attention. Perhaps because of this, the Aspen Institute Arts Strategy Group, which has been convening periodically to discuss and advance arts-based policies, recently came to Baltimore. In partnership with MICA, the Aspen Group convened over two dozen local and national arts and culture leaders, practitioners and philanthropists. Over two days, with site visits and frank discussions, the group considered the power of the arts and concurred on its potential to strengthen our city's future. The national leaders came away with a more nuanced and positive view of Baltimore than what has been portrayed lately in the media.

Advertisement

At the Baltimore Design School, we witnessed the result of public and private sectors coming together to reclaim a vacant building, bringing design thinking into the public education system. It is now a stunning architectural site that welcomes hundreds of students to a creative education, resulting in opportunities that otherwise would have been unavailable.

At the Cherry Hill Public Homes Recreation Center, we listened to participants from the Youth Resiliency Institute, an inter-generational after-school arts program for youth, parents and grandparents. We met with self-taught mentors, community elders and artists who are making art and building community cohesion through creative exploration.

We visited the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's OrchKids program at Lockerman-Bundy Elementary School. Now operating in five public schools in the city, the program offers children rigorous lessons in playing musical instruments and teams them as an ensemble with shining solo parts. Along with Cherry Hill, these programs palpably instill confidence and passion in young students, and it is impossible to not be moved by the OrchKids' pride, mastery and belief in their futures.

There are many other stunning examples throughout our city of arts-oriented programs and creative enterprises that help Baltimore flourish. But it is clear that there is room and need for more. Many do not yet receive adequate support. The diverse range of efforts reflects, at this point, a culture of fragmentation instead of a strategic framework.

This spring, the nation watched the unrest in Baltimore, laying bare the socio-economic, racial and structural challenges our city faces. We all recognized that to go forward, we must address these challenges with smart investments in many aspects of life here.

Now, as the whole world watches, is a unique and urgent moment for multiple sectors to come together to build a creative ecosystem for a better future.

The richness and diversity in our creative capital are a native strength of Baltimore. Growing an equitable creative economy should be a major strategy for Baltimore's renaissance.

Enterprises driven by creatives can be the next big wave of small and mid-sized businesses and a sustaining force in revenues and jobs generation in our city. Community and citizenry empowerment through creative engagement of our people can reinforce our social fabric. Artistic excellence as formally assessed in professional practices, much already in evidence, can continue to distinguish and define Baltimore as a creative city.

But we can do this only if the private sector, which is ready to build and invest here, can work with strong, decisive public leadership. As we look to this upcoming mayoral race, the commitment to building arts and culture programs to scale — ensuring creativity and opportunity is built into every individual life —must be a priority.

If we work holistically — and with tenacious determination — to leverage and amplify our many existing assets and possibilities, we can help Baltimore evolve into a socially cohesive, economically vibrant and culturally rich city.

It is time for Baltimore to shed its tattered image. Let's become a model for other urban cities for social, economic and creative achievements.

Samuel Hoi is president of Maryland Institute College of Art. He can be reached at president@mica.edu.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement