by Kate McMillan, Maryland State Arts Council
When it comes to leveraging the arts to stimulate the economy, the diverse regions of Maryland present different challenges and opportunities. In 2001, Maryland pioneered a statewide arts and entertainment district program that empowers Maryland localities with a set of tax incentives to encourage artists, arts organizations, and other creative enterprises to locate in a targeted area.
“In 2001, communities were eager to use arts to attract new business, revitalize their downtowns, and create more livable, sustainable neighborhoods,” said Theresa Colvin, Executive Director of the Maryland State Arts Council. “The A&E District Program is a proven tool for supporting jobs and enhancing the quality of life in local communities through the arts.”
Six Arts & Entertainment (A&E) Districts began operation under a 10-year designation in 2002. Since then, 13 additional Maryland A&E Districts have been added and designations for the Gateway and Silver Spring A&E Districts were recently granted 10-year extensions.
This month, the arts council released a study that found A&E Districts supported more than 1,600 jobs and nearly $50 million in wages on average every year between fiscal 2008 and 2010. The study also shows that the districts supported an average of $147.3 million in state gross domestic product (GDP) those years, and a total tax revenue impact of approximately $37.6 million during the same period.
“Each A&E District has a unique identity,” said Pamela Dunne, A&E Districts Program Director at the MSAC, “rural and metropolitan districts have very different assets and opportunities, needs and challenges, but both can benefit from A&E designation.”
Rural districts like Cambridge or Frederick often use A&E designation incentives to complement historic preservation and community revitalization plans, create affordable live and work spaces for artists and establish marketable tourist destinations. Metropolitan districts like Bethesda or Baltimore’s Station North are often home to large cultural institutions that anchor redevelopment, jobs and other opportunities in the cultural sector and beyond. All of Maryland’s A&E Districts boast festivals, public art, galleries and performances that brighten and unite communities.
“A&E districts are lively and desirable places to live and work which creates a ‘spillover effect’ that attracts an array of businesses that are not necessarily related to the arts,” said Tina Benjamin of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.
Two new A&E districts are under consideration and four districts—Bethesda, Cumberland, Hagerstown and Station North—are up for designation renewals this year. The program will continue to help more Maryland communities harness the power of the creative sector to maximize local economic impact. The recent study shows that beyond improving quality of life, A&E Districts are powerful economic drivers in Maryland’s modern economy.