The first-ever arts and culture forum for Baltimore mayoral candidates on Monday night showed mayoral candidates that Baltimore’s arts community can be a force, and that the arts are part of the larger conversation about the future of the city happening this election season. Within the context of the arts, the 10 Democrats and Green Party candidate Josh Harris addressed issues of inequality, the functioning of City Hall and improving education. Here are 5 specific issues that kept coming up:
Two Baltimores = Two Arts Communities
The inequality along race and class lines that has been a theme throughout the election was once again evident at the forum, with Joshua Harris directly stating that “Two Baltimores” is also evident when it comes to arts funding. Being inclusive was a big theme State Sen. Catherine Pugh and Calvin Young brought up the Great Blacks in Wax Museum as an institution that is deserving of support, whether in terms of fundraising or helping kids visit the institutions. Pugh also spoke about the need to expand access for all Baltimoreans to institutions that already get support such as the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Expanding Arts Education in School
Though the candidates didn’t address each other directly in a debate format, one of the more telling exchanges of the evening happened during back-to-back comments from Sheila Dixon and Elizabeth Embry. First, Embry said she did not receive proper arts education at City College, inspiring her mother to start a nonprofit to address the issue. Admitting that her comment showed her age, but said she did receive arts education, complete with music, theatre and more. To bring back what Dixon was describing, the candidates talked about the need to engage with the school system and ensure full funding for the arts. Pugh talked about her work in helping to create the Baltimore Design School, and said arts should be infused into the classroom. Embry and McKesson spoke of creating coordinated arts education strategies. McKesson added that in arts education, it’s important to rethink and expand the definition of what an artist is, and said dirt bikers and muralists should be included in the conversation. Candidates such as Nick Mosby pointed out that it’s important to expand resources for after school programming, so initiatives like the Baltimore School for the Arts’ Twigs (which he participated in) could be available to more students.
Arts Attention in City Hall
Many of the candidates called for the creation of an arts council at the City Hall level. Sheila Dixon said she would double the amount of money in the Baltimore Creative Fund, while Embry said she would create a cabinet-level position to focus on the arts.
1-Percent for Public Art
At least three candidates talked about the city’s 1 Percent for Public Art initiative, which requires a portion of development fees to go toward artistic efforts that can adorn the space where new project sits. Sheila Dixon and Elizabeth Embry called for the program to continue, and said they would ensure it runs effectively. Deray McKesson said that two percent of funds should be set aside. Joshua Harris, the Green Party candidate, got one of the bigger applause lines of the night when he said the city should call on local artists for special projects.
Citizen Artist Baltimore sent each candidate a questionnaire to gauge their opinion on a variety of arts issues. The results are expected to be posted on their website.