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Art Forum: Baltimore Mayoral Candidates Discuss Art

Close up of a sculpture at downtown Baltimore Image courtesy of Kazad

Sculpture like this and other art forms were part of the Baltimore Mayoral Art forum. Image courtesy of Kazad

ART NEWS: Baltimore mayoral candidates discuss plans for art and culture at art forum

BY KAZAD

View of the Deck of the slave ship Alabanoz. Lieutenant Francis. Meynell1846. Image courtesy of The Great Blacks in Wax Museum

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND — Artists and art lovers got the opportunity to question and listen to Baltimore mayoral candidates talk about their plans for the arts in Baltimore on Wednesday. Organized by Citizen Artist Baltimore, The event brought together all the registered candidates running for the office of mayor, including Catherine Pugh, Elizabeth Embry, David Warnock, Joshua Harris and DeRay Mckesson.

The first-of -its kind, the Citizen Artist Baltimore on Arts and Culture forum generated intense debates that went in many directions. At the core of the debate was how the mayoral candidates will help art grow in Baltimore. Baltimore, according to the organizers,  is a city where “the art industry is generating nearly $400 million in economic activity and supporting about 9, 500 jobs.

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John Schratwieser, Maryland Citizens for the Arts Executive Director notes that Baltimore mayoral candidates have a lot to benefit from articulating their plans for art and culture in Baltimore. “Baltimore is home to thousands of voters who care about arts— theatre, concert, and museum-goers; and workers in creative fields” he said. He noted further that while the people “value core issues like public safety and education, they also care deeply about candidates’ position on art and culture.”

MICA President Samuel Hoi explained the importance of art education in this mayoral election and the city. He notes: “The art and education, with unique potential to strengthen our city’s future, need to be integral in our next Mayor’s leadership efforts. We have the opportunity to tell a new story about Baltimore for the world to see.”

Held at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), the event began with a pre-forum performance that featured two drummers. They drummed and danced, preparing the auditorium filled with pro art audience for an evening that connected the past to the present and the present to the future.

Former Mayor Sheila Dickson looks back in time, going back to her days in the Baltimore City Public Schools. According to her, when she was a student, many city schools had robust art and culture education.  “Dance, music, theatre, drama etc. I mean, my rhythm was in dance and theatre,” she said.  All that is gone now. Dickson points fingers at standardized testing that gave credence to teaching to testing.

Dickson’s solution to bringing back those glorious days when art was treated as an integral part of the Baltimore city educational system is simply: Effort, she noted, must be made to reintegrate art into all areas of the curriculum, including writing, math, and literature. In addition, she emphasized that  the city has to take back full control of the Baltimore City Public schools. Currently run by a city/state partnership, the governor and mayor appoint the city school board.

The art forum came on the heels of the new effort to make enrichment program accessible to the younger generation. Last month, the city council approved putting on the ballot this November, an initiative that will set aside a projected $30 million for an enrichment program for children and teenagers if it passes.

 Calvin Allen Young III thinks this new initiative can be very effective in helping younger people have access to art education. If it passes, Young said he wants 10 million of the money to go to art education. This, he explained will encourage young people to experience art as they grow up.

DeRay Mckesson’s plans to help art and culture grow in Baltimore is to make art more inclusive and accessible to every child. He noted that he will encourage artists living in the city to teach art classes in schools and after school program.

Elizabeth Embry noted that if elected, she would immediately start working with city schools to ensure that all Baltimore City Public Schools have art teachers. ­­­­­

Nick J. Mosby explained that effort must be made to engage Baltimore artists by including them in projects. According to him, projects that receive tax money should display local art. ” When we talk about the hotels, the convention centers. Or anything that has come in the 15- 20 years. Imagine if we allow the artworks inside of those building to be directly tied to local artist and allowing for that competition to open up for Baltimore city residents,” he said.

In addition to making art education available in Baltimore City Public Schools and also engaging Baltimore artists, there was also a general consensus that effort must be made to support city museums.  The black wax museum was topmost on the minds of several of the candidates. David Warnock, Catherine E Pugh, and Calvin Allen Young III agreed that the city should do more to support the wax museum’s expansion plan.

The impact of lead poisoning on children and creativity was also a key issue at the art forum.  Mosby noted that lead poisoning not only has a devastating impact on children’s development but also deters them from achieving their creative potentials.

The prevalent high crime in the city is another issue that came up during the art forum.  Wilton Wilson drew a connection between art and crime.  He explained that crime is a major problem when it comes to art appreciation in Baltimore. Wilson noted that crime is preventing people from coming to Baltimore to enjoy art created by Baltimore artists, visit museums and gallery. For art and culture to grow in Baltimore, he contended that effort must be made to make the city safe for tourists and art lovers.

Eleven mayoral candidates, 10 democrats and 1 green party candidate, participated in the art forum.  They all agreed that Baltimore City Public Schools have lost a lot of art teachers and instructions. Therefore, all effort must be made to bring art back to City schools. The candidates also agreed to establish a cabinet position or art council.

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