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Arts school is a cause that's worth the money

October 03, 2009|By TIM ROWLAND

At my age, reading a really, really good book always makes me nervous. Somewhere along the line, I will, with apprehension, turn to the back flap for a glimpse of the author's picture.

If it's some old coot, I breathe a sigh of relief. More often, however, it's some fresh-faced punk who in no way should be writing such glorious prose given what I assume to be relatively little real-life experience.

It's not right. How did the late David Foster Wallace get so good so fast?

And, as a junk writer myself, I begin to rationalize. Dude probably had all the advantages that I was not afforded. No doubt he went to the best schools. Had the best teachers. Probably even went to class.

Talent and ambition obviously are essential, but artists often blossom at such a young age -- Van Gogh's signature moodiness was evident in chalk drawings he sketched when he was 8 -- that an early education is critical as a slingshot to the top of the heap.

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Although books are important, too, the best way to learn about automobiles is from a professional mechanic. Art is much the same, which is why the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts has in mind a $5 million endowment that will spit off enough income to pay for supplies, begin weekend summer arts programs and bring in top-shelf resident artists for specialized, targeted course work.

These adjuncts and resident artists are the rocket fuel that's needed to separate a good institution from an elite one.

School officials acknowledge the $5 million kitty will be years in the making, but their short-term goal is only slightly less ambitious.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the school will be Oct. 20, and by that time, the school hopes to have reached the $1 million mark. That's an audacious goal, and the only thing more incredible is that the school already is three-quarters of the way there. A final push will be on over the next couple of weeks to raise the remaining $250,000 through pledges and the sale of naming rights for various rooms and seats, which start at $150 and range up to $1 million.

Political junkies judge the viability of a candidate by the amount of money he or she can raise -- not from special interests, but from the rank and file. Is the person or issue deemed to be important enough that people will show support not with words, but with dollars?

The endowment's considerable total to date is as admirable as it is curious. Raising funds in a recession is never an easy task. And even in the best of times, our community usually is enthusiastic in showing its support in any inexpensive way it can. To top it off, art is not exactly one of the Three R's -- making it, educationally speaking, an unnecessary luxury in some people's view.

But several things are in play that change the equation. To begin with, the downtown's arts and entertainment cred is increasing. First came the Western Maryland Blues Fest, a special, once-a-year occasion. Then a few years ago, when then-Washington County Arts Council director Kevin Moriarty and the City of Hagerstown began scheduling noontime bands in University Plaza, people, tentatively at first, began poking their noses out of downtown offices and tapping their feet.

Organizations such as The Maryland Theatre's Wind Down Friday outdoor concerts, Bridge of Life church's free movies in the old Colonial Theatre and private businesses have taken it from there. We have to be the only city our size where hookah lounges outnumber newsstands, not that I'm saying that's a good thing or a bad thing.

So a number of people are putting their chips on the arts school to be a catalyst for a growing industry. With an endowment in hand, for example, school officials say it's easy to envision Maryland Symphony Orchestra performers mentoring Barbara Ingram students.

Donors to the foundation also have a couple of other things in mind, I suspect. With all of the dead ends brought to us by foreign wars, risky lending schemes and failed financial institutions, there is a natural inclination to seek out beauty, to seek out worth that is not tied to a balance sheet.

Art is a natural escape valve for a society that's become disillusioned with the cult of more -- bigger SUVs, bigger houses, bigger stock holdings. There is more to life, we're finding, than more.

And finally, the arts school quite likely will become a source of hometown pride -- an area where we can be the best and take a back seat to no other community. It's new, it's unproven and it's a challenge. But a lot of people are betting on its success with more than just lip service.

If it's a cause you believe in, too, you can contribute by calling Dale Bannon, the school board's director of system development, at 301-766-2937.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under opinion@herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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