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Improving the local art scene

Kevin Moriarty sets his sights on improving the cultural and arts scene through the Washington County Arts Council

Kevin Moriarty sets his sights on improving the cultural and arts scene through the Washington County Arts Council

November 13, 2007|By HARRY NOGLE

Kevin Moriarty has had an amazing run of luck in his life - one that he says, "always led to the best job in town."

His latest bit of luck came in December 2003 when he moved to Hagerstown. He left the Washington, D.C. area and a job as a lobbyist for the United Nations Children's Fund so he could "buy a nice old house" in Hagerstown's north end.

The move led to a job with the Washington County Arts Council as an event planner and booking agent. When the council's executive director left in May 2004, its board of directors named Moriarty, 50, as interim director. A month later the job became his permanently.

"It was fortuitous," he says. "I was in the right place at the right time."

The arts council's home is a rented space at 14 W. Washington St. In addition to administrative offices, it features a large art gallery that promotes and sells the works of area artists, sculptors and jewelry makers.

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The council was born of an idea held by a handful of advocates who sought to improve the cultural and arts scene in the county in the fall of 1967. It was incorporated a few months later. Next year the council celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Moriarty says its the oldest countywide arts council in Maryland.

His promotion to executive director marked the beginning of a lot of changes for the arts council.

"The board was at a point where it was time to revisit who we were and what we were going to do. They recognized that it was time to increase our visibility, our role in the county," he says. "As a result of that thinking we have been able to find the threads to weave art into the community."

It led to a closer relationship and more cooperation with such existing agencies and institutions as the Maryland Theatre, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra plus individual artists and patrons.

Evidence that Moriarty has led the council in the right direction shows up in his membership on a number of boards and committees including the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Western Maryland Blues Fest, the symphony, the museum, Humane Society of Washington County, even the Hagerstown Suns Chili Cook-off and Music Festival.

His involvement in the symphony and the Suns stems from his love of opera and Suns baseball.

Moriarty started informal luncheon meetings with the executive directors and leaders of other art and cultural groups - Maryland Theatre, the symphony, museum, local school, civic and government leaders and Suns officials to talk up ideas and mutual problems.

"We're learning to be flexible, to reinvent ourselves to meet the community's needs," he says.

Examples show up in a some of the children's programs the council sponsors, one involving Suns baseball players, and the other, school visits by artists.

The first got its roots in Storm Lake, a small town in Iowa, where Moriarty grew up.

"When I was a kid we were outside a lot," he says. "My mother didn't care if she didn't see us until dinnertime. It's different today. Parents have different fears."

Those memories led to the program at the Suns stadium. Before Sunday afternoon home games, Suns players come to the outfield and read classic literature to the kids.

"Cool guys reading the classics delivers a good message to an 8-year-old," Moriarty says.

The council recruited the artist of a popular comic book series to meet with students in one school. It established a blues workshop in three others.

It sponsors eight weeks of Saturday night bluegrass concerts in Hagerstown's City Park and a 12-week summer lunch concert program featuring a variety of music at University Plaza on West Washington Street.

Moriarty also says the council will play an integral role in the new Barbara Ingram School for the Arts planned for the former Henry's Theater building on South Potomac Street. The arts school is scheduled to open in 2009.

In addition to sponsoring arts and cultural programs, the council provides technical assistance, encouragement and money to groups and individual artists across the county. One of Moriarty's duties is approving grants that the council provides to organizations and individuals.

The council's annual budget, which runs around $215,000, is supported by donations from the city, county and state governments and individual and business memberships.

The agency's employees, besides Moriarty, include Lindsay Weaver, a full-time gallery manager, and Michael Maginnis, a part-time education programs manager.

Richard Belisle is a freelance writer and former Herald-Mail reporter. He lives in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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