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Art Callaham: Supporting the arts is a good investment

August 11, 2013|By ART CALLAHAM

We are fortunate to have wonderful cultural amenities in Washington County, including arts, education, libraries, symphonies and museums. 

The Washington County Arts Council’s gallery in downtown Hagerstown is a wonderful place to view paintings, sculptures, photographs and even jewelry created by local artists. The council is an asset to the arts culture in our community and facilitates, applies for and distributes grants for artisans of all types. The council was the first organized and approved to operate in Maryland and reminds me of the many firsts for which this community is known.

In our county, we have more than 30 museums and historical holdings. The crown jewel for many art museum lovers is the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown’s City Park overlooking the lake. 

More than 50,000 people each year visit this cultural flagship destination. One of the few accredited “fine arts” museums in the state and the only one in Maryland west of Baltimore, this one-of-a-kind opportunity to view fine arts is free and open to the public six days each week.

The museum was founded by Mr. and Mrs. William Henry Singer Jr. and incorporated in 1929. It has a collection of more than 6,000 objects, including paintings, sculpture and decorative arts. The primary focus is on 19th-century and early 20th-century American art.  

Our outstanding public school system utilizes the museum as a teaching and learning experience for students in elementary, middle and high schools. Also many of the private schools, along with home-schooled students, avail themselves of this unique opportunity to learn about the arts.

There are strong bonds between the museum, Washington County Public Schools, Washington County Free Library and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra. These bonds ensure that students locally develop some appreciation for the arts — a good lesson for anyone at any age.

WCMFA and its various programs also reach into southern Pennsylvania, adjoining counties in Maryland and the panhandle of West Virginia. Truly, the museum is a leader in arts education and the display of fine arts throughout the Cumberland Valley.

Recent exhibits include one on Japanese culture and the wonderful “Valley of the Shadow” exhibit — which chronicled, through artifacts art and displays, the rich American Civil War history so prevalent in our area.

Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, a rare jewel in bucolic Western Maryland, provides aspiring arts students in our area with a unique public school educational opportunity usually only found in large metropolitan areas. The vision of a quality arts education for our youth has become manifest in the graduating students — many following dreams into various fields of the arts, others achieving a higher level of academic success and others graduating with a well-rounded education including the arts.  

Funding for the arts, particularly from the public sector, is thin and getting thinner at best. The private sector must step up. A good friend said to me that “art is at the soul of mankind,” and one’s soul is too often neglected. The friend also said, “you never miss what is here; rather, you miss what is gone.”

Those two comments remind me often that our community, our national soul, is enriched through the arts. I have chosen to support the arts, and I encourage you to do the same.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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