David F. Romero
Maryland’s fame doesn’t revolve around the blue crab alone. Tourists and residents alike travel the state each year sampling not only the region’s cuisine, but also its arts and entertainment. A hunger for the arts is ever increasing, and the state’s arts councils are more than eager to satisfy those cravings.
In 2006, our state had a record-breaking year, with the arts and entertainment industry generating $1.05 billion in economic impact statewide—up from $970 million in 2005—according to data released in early 2007 by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED).
More than 13 million people attended arts events by the close of 2006, generating $37.3 million in local and state taxes, and providing 13,762 full-time jobs. The largest gains in revenue and employment occurred in the more populated regions outside Baltimore and Washington, DC.
Although more populated, cities are not the only locales for quality arts and cultural events. From the serene flatlands of the Eastern Shore to the scenic mountains of western Maryland, the arts are alive and thriving throughout the state, luring tourists, residents, artisans, businesses, and retailers, as well as rejuvenating economically depressed areas.
This renaissance that many counties are enjoying is due in large part to the Arts and Entertainment (A&E) Districts Program, established in 2001 by the Maryland General Assembly. Local municipalities and county governments apply for designation as an A&E district, which allows tax benefits and credits encouraging businesses, organizations, and artists to locate in a particular jurisdiction.
Taking the Lead
Maryland is the first state in the nation to take its A&E districts program statewide. Baltimore City’s Station North, Highlandtown, Bethesda, Cambridge, Cumberland, Denton, Frederick, Hagerstown, Silver Spring, Prince George’s County’s Gateway District, Wheaton, Berlin, Snow Hill, and Elkton are current A&E designees.
From the perspective of Hannah Byron, assistant secretary for DBED’s Division of Tourism, Film, and the Arts, the A&E districts program is working. “This program revitalizes the communities and helps them become tourist attractions, as well,” she says. “We’re getting synergy between tourism and the arts, and we’re making more efforts to bring both together.”
Byron sees the arts, in particular, as having both quality-of-life and economic impact. “When companies look to relocate, they look at amenities,” she says. Amenities such as education, transportation, housing, and shopping rank high, but other considerations—entertainment, recreational, leisure, and cultural activities—are just as important. “Employees and their families want to enjoy where they are living,” says Byron. “It’s important to grow that quality-of-life aspect to, in turn, spur the economy.”
Theresa Colvin, executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council, sees a twofold benefit in designating A&E districts: First, counties become destinations for both out-of-state tourists and Maryland residents, and second, community-wide awareness of and access to the arts across the state exist.
Colvin further explains that counties and municipalities dedicated to the arts experience community revitalization. If A&E facilities anchor a town, it becomes a prime target for businesses within and outside the state. On the tide of new business come new residents.
“Studies show that if you want to attract a young, educated, highly skilled, technologically advanced workforce, it’s essential to provide incentives for those who want to relocate,” she says, adding, “A strong cultural focus will lead them to your state.”
Ample galleries, museums, exhibition halls, and venues for the performing arts offer visitors a chance to explore creative genres as varied as Maryland’s landscapes. In fact, the state’s towns and cities, in Colvin’s view, are cultural hubs. “From purple-martin birdhouses on the Eastern Shore to screen paintings in Baltimore City, the arts are a way we can learn from each other’s cultures. The arts deepen our identity with and understanding of what is only here in Maryland.”