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Celebrating Change

Celebrating Change


MSAC FY19 Update

June 06, 2019News

• Harriet Tubman mural in Dorchester County receives national attention

• The National Folk Festival comes to Maryland for a three-year residency

• Maryland’s First Annual Arts Summit  June 7 – 8 at UMBC

•Department of Commerce authorizes a new home for MSAC in downtown Baltimore


As Fiscal Year 2019 comes to a close, the Board and staff of the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC) are excited to share and celebrate the tremendous accomplishments of the past 12 months. The items above are just four notable examples.

FY19 was about exploring why and how we do what we do, with a specific commitment to equitable access to the arts for all Marylanders. The Maryland State Arts Council is a highly respected state agency performing a critical function for artists, arts organizations and citizens.  The changes that have been implemented were developed with one overarching goal - to maintain and enhance Maryland's reputation as one of America's leading centers for the arts.

Council leadership’s charge has been to ensure that MSAC is more proactively and inclusively engaged with arts organizations and artists across Maryland.  The staff has sought to do so in a robust and transparent manner, allowing MSAC to better showcase the rich and uniquely diverse cultural resources in Maryland. And, in particular, we want to think expansively beyond grant administration and other core functions to use our resources to increase the visibility of not only Maryland artists and arts organizations, but also of MSAC itself.

This has necessarily meant change. Change in the way we engage with our constituents. Change in procedures and processes. Change in the job skills that are necessary for staff members to help create a 21st century arts council, which, in turn, can help maintain Maryland's well-earned reputation as being in the national vanguard of supporting the arts as a critical component of economic growth and development. We also have made a concerted effort to more closely align the activities and functions of MSAC with the rest of the Department of Commerce. This has helped to reduce isolation and inefficiency and to achieve more synergy with the Department as a whole, as well as reflect MSAC’s status as a key element of the Department's economic growth and development portfolio.

The change has occurred with open debate and discussion with the leadership of the Department of Commerce and MSAC. Throughout this period, transparency has been a foundational ingredient. The doors of MSAC have been opened and we have traveled to every corner of Maryland - from Oakland to Ocean City - many times during the last 12 months to listen to local communities and artists speak about what support they need today and going forward. Collaboration and discussion have been encouraged at every step, and we will continue to improve our efforts keep open all lines of communication.

Because of the strong support of Governor Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly, Maryland now ranks 3rd in per capita arts funding in the nation, creating a path to support and elevate a robust variety of diverse arts programming across the state. Understanding the responsibility of this opportunity, the staff and board focused our energies on the development of a new strategic plan. We learned from our history and stakeholders through leadership interviews, background reviews, regional meetings, a statewide survey, and an examination of best practices. We came together to test themes, analyze perceptions, and examine ideas and questions. The result is a bold narrative for the future with the goals to increase participation, provide intentional support, build capacity, leverage connections, and bolster Maryland arts. The final draft will be presented to the board on June 12 and we are excited to share it with you.

Staff departures are a common occurrence across state agencies when procedures and programs begin to receive attention and we remain grateful for the dedication and guidance of the staff members who departed over the past year. Internal restructuring allows for a more efficient use of experience, talent, and energy dedicated to internal procedures while simultaneously expanding the number of hours spent in the field. Of particular note are the recent promotion of Steven Skerritt-Davis to Deputy Director; a change in the duties of the Administrative Associate to support County Arts Councils and Arts and Entertainment (A&E) Districts; the addition of a Special Projects and Grants Assistant position filled by Rosa Chang; the hiring of Amelia Rambissoon as the Marketing and Communications Manager; and the placement of Urban Arts Leadership Fellow Associate, Kayla Morgan. We are working now to fill current staff vacancies, and we expect to be operating at full capacity very soon.

A needed investment in technology and electronic communication includes the creation of a new website.  The website, to be launched later this year, will feature easier navigation, a revamped and expanded artist registry, and a dashboard to quickly connect artists and organizations to resources and opportunities at MSAC and beyond. In addition, a new grant platform launches this month that will make applying and reporting to MSAC more efficient, allowing grantees to spend less time on forms and more time creating.

The Grants for Organizations program, our largest funding mechanism, had the most significant changes.

  • Heightened internal controls included increasing the communication and transparency between the Maryland State Arts Council and the Internal Auditors of the Department of Commerce;

  • A statewide call for panelists replaced the former panelist nomination process allowing for a larger pool of respondents that was vetted by Program Directors, the Executive Director, and the full Council;

  • A more robust panelist training process empowered panelists with the knowledge to make more informed evaluations while understanding the importance of their role and scoring calculations;

  • A detailed scoring rubric was created to guide panelists to clearer calculations of scores;

  • The Executive Director, Program Directors, Grants and Professional Development Director, and Council monitor panel meetings and make recommendations to adjust panel scores in cases of observed discrepancies during the panel review process.

In addition, the application shifted from being primarily a tool for gathering information to a platform that offers an opportunity for organizations to reflect upon programs and operations while considering equity, diversity and inclusion in their own practices.  The process for the change to the criteria for evaluation began with listening sessions and a public editing process. Throughout the process the emerging national awareness of equity, diversity and inclusion, supported by research and recommendations of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and Americans for the Arts, guided the development of criteria that further defined concepts like “artistic excellence.” This allows for greater inclusivity, beyond the historical and traditional definitions of aesthetic qualities, which are based in western art and its specific styles of delivery. We used components of the Animating Democracy: AESTHETIC PERSPECTIVES; Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change to guide the development of new language. The new criteria celebrate a wider array of artistic voices and expand the possibilities of what is considered fundable. The staff met, discussed, edited and re-edited the criteria before the Board refined the language and approved its final format, which was then presented to the Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Commerce for final approval before publication. In addition, the DataArts requirement was removed from grant applications to increase the accessibility of our programs, and we now specifically collect the data that is being used by the National Endowment for the Arts and in Maryland’s economic development report.

To answer the request for support for smaller organizations, smaller projects, and independent artists, the Creativity Grant program was launched in February. The goal was to increase the ease and efficiency for applicants with limited resources. MSAC granted 77 Creativity Grants within two months, totaling $190,123 in operating and project support throughout 20 Maryland counties and Baltimore City. Over 50 percent are new MSAC grantees.

Through the Community Arts Development program, we’re increasing our time and resource investment in Maryland’s county arts councils, strengthening our partnerships, and creating streamlined efforts for professional development and technical assistance. The Deputy and Executive Director met with more than half of the boards of directors of the county arts councils in an effort to improve communication and will continue the meetings until all boards have been visited.

Another constituent-led program revision guided the Individual Artist Awards to become the Independent Artist Awards in 2020, allowing for individual and collaborative submissions in broader categories with higher award amounts and regional and statewide recognition. This commitment to expanding opportunities for independent artists is in response to what we learned through the strategic planning process.

The National Folk Festival began its residency in Salisbury, with MSAC’s Maryland Traditions program being represented in a folklife area featuring traditional artists, performers, and craftspeople. Maryland Traditions is undergoing an overhaul to its granting policies and procedures, which features the rollout of new granting initiatives aimed at capitalizing on recommendations from the Maryland Folklife Center feasibility study. Current folklife partners received funding increases across the board to support their regional work in identifying, documenting, supporting, and presenting living cultural traditions. Funding increases were approved for Apprenticeship Awards, thus making Maryland’s offering competitive with other apprenticeship programs around the country. St. Mary’s College of Maryland established a new collaboration with Maryland Traditions in support of its oral history efforts through SlackWater, a journal of southern Maryland folklife.

To increase the visibility of both the Independent Artists Awards and Maryland Traditions Heritage Awards, the annual recognition ceremonies will take place during the Maryland Arts Summit at UMBC.

In partnership with the Fine Arts Office of the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), the MSAC Arts in Education program redesign has been expanded beyond prekindergarten through grade 12 classroom settings to include special needs and incarcerated youth. In addition, the program will now fund adult arts education for veterans and aging populations. A rolling deadline replaces the annual deadline to encourage ongoing opportunities and a new micro-credentialing professional development program will allow teaching artists to expand the possibilities for employment. We look forward to working with our partners at MSDE, Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance, the Teaching Artists of the Mid Atlantic, and arts educational professionals across the state, to continue developing these programs.

Statewide Professional Development was held through Regional Arts Institutes and Creative Conversations at seven statewide locations as well as through webinar opportunities for technical assistance. Constituent feedback through these professional development opportunities provided the basis for program revision requests. Both current and new stakeholders participated. The Maryland Arts Summit, created in partnership with Maryland Citizens for the Arts, the Maryland State Department of Education, and Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance is the first conference of its kind for the entirety of Maryland’s arts sector. The Summit will include more than 70 professional development sessions, presented by 150 arts leaders.  

The Maryland Public Art Initiative dedicated its second public artwork at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Health Sciences Building. A kinetic, stainless steel sculpture, the artwork’s DNA sculptural forms beautifully reflect the leading-edge genetic breakthroughs taking place inside. In honor of MSAC’s 50th Anniversary, 18 project grants were awarded as part of the Public Art Across Maryland program. County Arts Councils and Arts & Entertainment Districts across the state received grant funding to support diverse public art projects, ranging from murals and sculptures to painted benches and basketball courts.

The Council approved long-requested operating support for Maryland’s 26 A&E Districts, providing an added level of support to help these vibrant and unique communities across the state meet their goals of encouraging the work of artists, arts organizations, creative economy businesses, and creative placemaking projects.

Finally, believing that a 21st century state arts council demands a level of presence and activity beyond funding, MSAC is very close to announcing the address of its new home. The new facility will include exhibition and performance space to showcase Maryland artists, as well as work-spaces and conference rooms for staff activity and constituent professional development.

This FY19 MSAC update demonstrates a strong commitment to our recently identified strategic goals to increase participation, provide intentional support, build capacity, leverage connections, and bolster Maryland arts. We look forward to FY20!

We welcome your continued input, comments, and active participation. We all share the goal of a thriving arts community across the state, one that reaches every Marylander. This is a team effort, and MSAC is committed to working with all of our stakeholders.


The Board and Staff of the Maryland State Arts Council


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