Maryland is a state of acute economic and cultural contrasts. Biotech firms and aerospace engineering centers are headquartered mere miles from family farms. Physicians and researchers, drawn to Maryland's advanced health care facilities, call the state home, as do watermen who for generations have made a living harvesting crabs by hand from the Chesapeake Bay. World-class museums and performing arts centers coexist in a rich cultural landscape with traditional decoy carvers and master shipwrights of the eastern shore.
Given this diversity, Maryland needed a multi-dimensional economic development approach that could respond to varying local challenges and opportunities. Maryland's Arts and Entertainment Districts initiative has become an important part of that policy portfolio. Administered by the Maryland State Arts Council, this initiative puts the arts at the heart of community revitalization.
While municipalities across the nation have utilized cultural districts for decades, in 2001 Maryland became the first state in the country to adopt Arts and Entertainment Districts as a statewide policy strategy for enhancing economic vitality. This program provides state incentives to help Maryland localities organize special zones that harness the power of their cultural resources. The district becomes a focal point that attracts businesses, stimulates cultural development and fosters civic pride. Maryland jurisdictions, neighborhoods, municipalities and counties are eligible to request state approval for an Arts and Entertainment District. Benefits available to designated districts include:
Property credits for construction or renovation of buildings that create live-work space for artists and/or space for arts and entertainment enterprises,
Income tax subtraction modification for artistic work sold by qualifying residing artists, and
Exemption from the Admissions and Amusement tax.
In the first six years of the Maryland program, 15 localities received state designation. The program encourages each community to make the most of its distinctive cultural assets. As a result, no two Arts and Entertainment Districts are alike. Whether rural, urban or suburban, each district uses a unique blend of performing and visual arts activities, artists, cultural traditions, facilities, public spaces and other amenities to make the area a hub of culture and commerce.
The economic outcomes of the program include an increase in occupancy rates, commercial activity and overall property values in many districts. Mary Jo Jablonski, Director of the Elkton Alliance, describes what an Arts and Entertainment District has meant to her rural community. She states, "In 2003 there were 33 vacant spaces in downtown. Now there are zero." Cambridge has also seen a dramatic surge in property values as a result of its district. According to Kyra Kristof Pincheira, the Arts and Entertainment District Coordinator at the Cambridge Main Street, "Interest in the availability of space has outstripped supply."
Elizabeth Affleck Carven, Deputy Director of the Maryland State Arts Council, notes that the districts have multiple effects because "they create clusters of creative economic activity and destination areas centered on arts and culture." Andrew L. Vick, Executive Director of the Allegany Arts Council and Coordinator of the Cumberland Arts and Entertainment District, concurs. "Buildings have been reused and revitalized, tourism is flourishing and new people are moving to the area and paying taxes."
Arts and Entertainment Districts also become tourism magnets. Referring to Cambridge's district, Carven states, "They are on the verge of emerging into this wonderful, unique little downtown with interesting restaurants, retail, galleries and working artist studios. Rather than just driving past Cambridge on their way to the coastal resorts, travelers will start to see Cambridge as a serious destination." Pincheira agrees. She says, "Many people are very surprised by our diversity of artistic offerings. We will hear, 'I expect to see this in New York, not here.' We are really building towards a critical mass that makes it well worth a day trip."
Strategies for Success
Carven cites civic involvement and partnerships as major strategies for successful districts. "Interweaving existing assets with new ones make these districts successful," she says. "Main Street programs, local tourism departments, chambers of commerce, arts organizations and businesses all play their part."
Districts also facilitate artist relocation and integration into their communities. Cumberland actively recruits out-of-town artists, encourages their integration into community life and involves them in the rehabilitation of abandoned buildings. Vick believes that, "the arts have been one of the key elements of the revitalization of downtown Cumberland. When we bring in artists who renovate buildings we continue to demonstrate what is possible."
With plans for more district designations in the future and marketing efforts that could highlight authentic experiences found in each existing district, Maryland is growing through the arts. Contemplating Cumberland's recent journey and future plans, Vick reflects, "Even in challenging financial times, an investment in the arts pays major dividends."