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'I felt like I was home again'

July 11, 2004

Kevin Moriarty had visited Hagerstown in 1981. He was working as a legislative assistant for a Japanese firm in Washington, D.C., and came over the mountain when a co-worker brought him home for Thanksgiving dinner.

He had no idea at the time that he'd choose to live in the Washington County city some 20 years later.

"Who'd have thought?" he asked.

Moriarty, 46, began his position as executive director of the Washington County Arts Council at the beginning of June - just in time for the Western Maryland Blues Fest. He laughed that he was in charge of beer.

Elizabeth Lay, arts council executive director since December 2002, resigned, leaving a vacancy in the top spot. Moriarty had been working as the council's events coordinator since last spring and was willing to step into the top position.

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Summer is busy for the arts council, said John Psillas, a member of the arts council's board of directors since 1998, its president since June. Moriarty is taking over at a difficult time, Psillas said.

"He's doing a fantastic job," Psillas said.

Moriarty was given an interim appointment to the position, and Psillas expects it will become permanent in a few months.

"When you look at his rsum, I don't know that you would find a better candidate if you had done an extensive search," Psillas said.

Moriarty had moved to Hagers-town last December from Columbia, Md., and several years of working in Washington, D.C. Most recently, he was manager of congressional relations for UNICEF, the United Nations' advocacy agency for children.

Moriarty has found an "amazing confluence of artists and writers" in Hagerstown and the Tri-State area.

"I felt like I was home again," he said.

His first home was in Storm Lake, Iowa. He graduated from St. Mary's College of Minnesota, a small Catholic college where he studied English literature, music history and piano. He had taught himself to play the instrument when he was 5 years old: He was envious of older siblings who were taking lessons. He laughed, recalling playing the "Toreador Song" from Georges Bizet's "Carmen" as a little kid.

When he came to Hagers-town, Moriarty had the "unusual luxury" of not immediately looking for a job. Just before Christmas, he noticed a shiny metal plaque on a street sign near his house in Hagerstown's North End, a tribute to Morris Frock, the first man from Washington County killed in World War I. Moriarty was curious and did a little research. He learned a lot about the Frock family and the history of his new home.

He started working at the Washington County Arts Council - one of the first founded in Maryland - as part-time events coordinator last spring.

Now he's in his office at the back of the gallery by 7 or 8 a.m.

"Running an arts organization is not about being an artist," he said.

He sees half of his work as raising money, and the other half spending - "regranting it." The nearly $250,000 budget comes from city, county and state grants, as well as membership income and private contributions. The arts council, one of the oldest in Maryland, is the place where connections are made - connections for artists and people who need art in their lives, Moriarty said.

"We're a service organization," he said.

Arts council programs continue, and summer is a busy time. Storytellers are doing programs in Washington County parks, the children's arts camp at Doub's Woods park is happening and there will be a series of free concerts in Hagerstown's City Park - the first on Saturday, July 17.

The 24th issue of Antietam Review is being put together. The national literary magazine has been publishing original fiction, poetry, black-and-white photography, interviews and reviews since 1982. That's a long life for a literary journal, Moriarty said.

M3, a bimonthly program of visual art, music and the written word is being reworked and is expected to return in the fall. A new Washington County Arts Council Web site is under construction and will be a useful tool for people when it's operating at www.washingtoncountyarts.com, Moriarty said.

Moriarty wants to make the summer arts camp available to more kids and hopes to grow the annual scholarship program.

"There are a lot of talented young people here," Moriarty said.

Rain on the Blues Fest weekend brought Sunday, June 6, events scheduled for Hagerstown City Park downtown. Ernie Hawkins performed at the arts council gallery, and Moriarty liked that people dropped in to listen. He wants community groups and businesses to think about the gallery as a place to have meetings and gatherings. The environment changes every month with new exhibits. People will have a pleasant place to meet, and the work of area artists will be seen by more people.

Moriarty said he is happy to be in Hagerstown and happy to be on the job. He's open to possibilities for helping to fulfill the council's mission: "We enrich the social, artistic, cultural and economic life of Washington County by fostering the arts," he said.

It's about connections.

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