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The Nose

Art Burn

Frank Klein
Paint it Green: Mayor Martin O'malley addresses this year's cultural town meeting.

Posted 11/5/2003

"It's hard to believe it's been a year since we last did this," said Mayor Martin O'Malley as he addressed the sizable and decorous attendees of the second annual Cultural Town Meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center Oct. 29. "I don't think we could've found a less artistic room in all of Baltimore." O'Malley's combination of wisecrack and politesse were his evasions of choice this evening, proving that he and his office have grown more savvy in dealing with the local artsy types since last year's Cultural Town Meeting. During the 2002 meeting held at the University of Baltimore, the mayor was put on the spot by local arts movers and shakers who wanted to know what, exactly, the mayor was going to do to nurture the arts under his tenure: You've been well-intentioned since moving into Holliday Street, they let him know, but what have you done for us lately? More precisely, when can we get funding?

Perchance expecting that very question, O'Malley front-loaded his brief address this year with a laundry list of artistic activities that have taken place under his purview in the past 12 months: the opening of the Patterson Center for the Arts, groundbreaking of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African-American History and Culture, expanding the Baltimore City Public School System's artists-in-residency program from 12 artists to 25. He even singled out such buzz-worthy local endeavors as the emergence of Radar magazine, Black Cherry Puppet Theatre, Kids on the Hill, and Fluid Movement.

While it was refreshing for the Nose to hear the mayor refer to artists as potential economic sources during his address, he still hasn't wavered from his stance about the fiscal bottom line: There isn't money for this, that, or the other, he told the audience during the forum. During the tame question-and-answer session, the mayor fielded a question about the possibility of the city operating a bus, for example, to travel between various arts districts in the city. O'Malley responded with a mixture of skeptical confusion, before noting that with the help of M&T Bank, the BelieveMobile, a community center-cum-performance stage on wheels, is up and running. He added that the arts are not always something that government delivers to people, but that the creative citizens in communities have a responsibility to foster themselves.

It was a deft dismissal of the idea on O'Malley's part, but later in the program guest speaker Richard Florida (author of the Rise of the Creative Class) brought it back to life by praising Pittsburgh's UltraViolet loop, a public-transportation partnership between a nonprofit arts organization and the Port Authority of Allegheny County designed to highlight the city's diverse neighborhoods and nightlife pockets. The Nose found it a sterling example of creative use of public transportation, something that is lacking in Baltimore--not to mention a boost for those who know that thinking outside the box doesn't always mean thinking outside the budget.

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