Mobile Session: Equity in Art

A grassroots movement took hold in Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, over 10 years ago with the sole purpose of creating an economically, racially and culturally diverse “suburban” town center. This community continues to emerge “as the place to be” for people at all income levels. In December 2001, Downtown Silver Spring successfully earned its Arts and Entertainment District designation, receiving state funding, which sparked exponential growth. The community is now a popular regional destination that drives economic growth in Montgomery County. Now, Artspace, an affordable housing development, will convert a vacant police station into affordable live/work artist studios to build upon arts initiatives and strengthen the neighborhood’s core values. Artists contribute greatly to a neighborhood’s revitalization; it’s sense of place. Marrying the theory of creative “placemaking” and “placekeeping” with strategic investment creates distinct pathways for increased economic diversity. Join representatives from the local arts community, local government and nonprofits in Downtown Silver Spring for an interactive panel presentation, discussion, studio visit and tour of the neighborhood with Arts on the Block.

Anna Danielson, Executive Director, Gandhi Brigade Youth Media, Silver Spring, MD
Anne L’Ecuyer, Executive Director, Arts on the Block, Kensington, MD
Molline Jackson, Special Assistant to the Planning Director, M-NCPPC, Silver Spring, MD
Heidi Zimmer, Senior Vice President, Artspace, Minneapolis, MN

By: Emily Kaplan

In order to get conference attendees into the community to see what local artists and organizations are doing to promote art, the 2019 Just Economy Conference hosted a mobile session in Silver Spring, Maryland. Art is a significant portion of state and local economies and it deserves equitable support and consideration.

Group talk

Molline Jackson, the session moderator and the planning director’s special assistant at the Montgomery County Planning Department, kicked off the presentations with some helpful information about creative placemaking, public art and county government. Creative placemaking brings together public, private and nonprofit partners to strategically shape the character of their community. It can improve local economic viability, enhance public safety and build capacity among residents to take ownership of their communities. Public art plays a significant role in the process of creative placemaking. Jackson discussed all the regulatory coordination that takes place when installing a piece of public art. She also walked through the different resources available in Maryland for cities, artists and developers that are interested in installing public art, including the Maryland State Art Council and the budget language to fund public art.

Ariel Garcia, the project manager at Artspace, detailed how their organization works to provide affordable housing and studio space for artists across the country. The artists’ lifestyles are the guiding principle in the creation of their living spaces. The rental units are available to tenants with incomes at 60 percent or below of Area Median Income (AMI). They have easy to clean surfaces, bare walls and plenty of natural light. They also have gallery space in their lobbies with rotating exhibits from each of their residents. Garcia showed Artspace’s plans for their upcoming project in Silver Spring to provide the existing art community with affordable rental options. Organizations like Artspace are helping to eradicate the “starving artist” by facilitating arts and artists in various communities to contribute to a thriving economy.

The group also benefited from hearing directly from, Karen Roper, a resident of the Fenton Village community. Roper, who is also a member of the East Silver Spring Citizens Association (ESSCA), spoke about the role the community plays in working with private developers (like Artspace), being keenly aware of the displacement of artists in Arts and Entertainment Districts and driving the vision for this particular arts focused development. The welcomed participation of groups like ESSCA, and active members like Karen Roper, played a critical role in this portion of the conversation. 

Anna L’Ecuyer, executive director of Arts on the Block, and Anna Danielson, executive director from Gandhi Brigade Youth Media, talked about the work of local artists. Arts on the Block engages with people as young as middle school to get them interested in art through their professional mosaic studio. High school students compete for a spot on their studio team, which works with clients to understand what they want and then collaborates with the students to come up with a design. The studio team creates the artworks and coordinates the installations for their clients, giving the students valuable experience in the professional art field. Arts on the Block also prepares their students for creative careers by providing them with job training, job readiness and presentation and communication skills once a quarter. We were able to walk around their studio, appreciate the project their studio team is currently working on and talk with some of the artists about their project. Currently, they are working on portraiture, and one of their current projects is a 15’x15’ mural titled “Our Grandma.” It is a commission for Chase Bank and the studio team will install it on the exterior wall of Chase’s new branch on Minnesota Avenue.

Kids working on a mosaic mural
Mosaic mural titled “Our Grandma”

Danielson also discussed how her organization works to teach middle and high school students how to engage in activism through short filmmaking. They consciously try to ground themselves in community by listening to what stories each community wants told. Their most recent project focused on the rise of student activism, and they have even entered it into some film festivals. As we walked back to the metro, we were able to see some of the public art in downtown Silver Spring.


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