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Arts district should come with privileges

March 24, 1999

I had just set my shirts out on the curb and taken my garbage to the cleaners Saturday when I noticed in a newspaper box a map of the city's proposed Arts and Entertainment District.

This cafe district is a one-by-two-block section of the city center and will promote artists, musicians, theaters and restaurants in an attempt to reinvigorate the downtown.

But using my keen skills as a cartographer, what instantly caught my eye was the fact that my own studio, my lonely writer's garret, is completely within the city's new cafe district.

Well.

Right off, there are two things I want to know: Do I have to give tours, and are there any tax breaks?

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I must say, I sort of like the idea. I went out and bought a beret and a pound of Green Mountain French Roast and sat around striking poses that I thought would be appropriate of one who lives in an arts and entertainment district. I tried throwing my left leg over the arm of the couch and reaching my right hand out along the back cushions. No. Too Roman.

I turned out the lights and stood, leaning against the frame of a high window looking out on the street, hands shoved deep in the pockets of my lime green linen sports jacket, letting the horizontal shadows from the blinds elongate themselves across my face. I tried to look troubled - not much use in this light - but there is an element of brooding that is critical to any artist, regardless of whether anyone saw me or not.

I glanced at my computer. And sure enough, the phrases on the screen seemed a little more plausible, now that I knew they had been crafted in an Arts and Entertainment District as opposed to any old hole in the wall. I made a mental note to up the price of my current manuscript.

Being a member of the city's cafe district is a task, nay, an obligation, that I intend to take seriously. The people who are trying to attract substance to downtown say that a critical element of revitalization is a population of wealthier residents.

I couldn't agree more, so I went in and asked for a raise. "It's not for me, it's for the future of downtown," I pleaded. "Won't somebody think of the future of downtown?"

As a potential, high-quality resident to the arts and entertainment district, the Chamber of Commerce also has an eye toward luring the Board of Education into city center office space. A friend of mine is dubious, thinking it a tad ironic to want the crew responsible for the demise of elementary school music programs to move into an arts district.

But I am more of an optimist, and I tend to see the glass as half full. The central board is the only agency that could move into the Baldwin House, in its present condition, and have it be an improvement over their current building.

Then there's the part no one wants to talk about publicly, finding a way to cleanse downtown of the unksdray and the elfareway eensquay.

Or at least make them a little less obvious. You know me well enough to realize that I wouldn't bring up a problem without offering a solution, and it is this:

While you're creating an Arts and Entertainment District, map off a second area, a Winos and Public Assistance District. Make it sort of an element of pride; plant petunias in the empty beer bottles. And if two ladies wish to offer each other a little "constructive criticism" over who stole who's boyfriend at the fragrance counter in Wal-Mart? Well, I think a little healthy debate ought to be encouraged, not stifled. Let them air their differences in the "marketplace of ideas." That or an empty warehouse.

Meanwhile, we artistes can sip our double espressos and complain in peace about the paucity of NEA funding. Membership in the now rather exclusive Arts and Entertainment District ought to have its privileges.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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