1.What does it mean to be the Director of Special Events? And isn’t every event BOPA produces a “special event”?

Being the Director of Special Events means a lot to me, and it’s very exciting as you get the opportunity to be involved in international/national events such as Light City, Star-Spangled Spectacular or a Super Bowl Parade. But you also get the opportunity to do small community events like the MECU Neighborhood Grants where you have twenty people attending a small workshop compared to 100,000 people at major event.    I enjoy seeing people having a good time.  It’s especially exciting  when you’ve booked an attendee’s favorite band, and you see them at the front of the stage dancing,  singing,  and jumping with excitement in  seeing this band, and it’s all free.  It’s so rewarding to see people’s expressions and gratitude for the special events we present.

2. How did you become the Director of Special Events? What’s your history/background? What led you to this position?

It’s very funny because I went to Villa Julie College [now Stevenson University] to become a business legal secretary.   I did my internship here and was hired after I graduated.  I was the secretary for the Events Manager (I think that was her title). Then a Data Process Operator, then an events assistant, then was promoted to an events coordinator, then promoted to events manager and finally the Director of Special events.  So it has evolved over the years; I didn’t go to school for this or anything. So my role here has been a very interesting journey – talk about on-the-job experience!

3. How can your average Baltimorean can take advantage of, or find out about BOPA events?

I think the best way now is social media. Back in the day, you could look at a calendar listing in The Sun papers or in City Paper, but now it is most definitely social media and I think word of mouth too.  When folks have a great time at an event or festival they like to share their experience, especially when they find out a person is not familiar with the event or festival.

4. What goes into planning special events for BOPA?

It depends what the event is, but some consistent things include: attention to details,  a good timeline, sticking to the budget,  the support  of city services and the number one goal is for the people attending the event to have a good time, and plan to come back the next year.

5. What do you wish more people knew about BOPA and all the events that you produce?

I think a lot of people don’t know about us period. We need to do a better job of tooting our own horn.  We do a lot of events and special projects, and offer a lot of services that people don’t know about or think it’s done by “The City” so we need to celebrate and spread the word about ourselves more.

6. Is there any particular event that you’ve had a hand in that is your favorite?

My favorite event is the Monument Lighting and the Baltimore Book Festival.  Initially because they were both held in Mount Vernon and I love the intimacy of that neighborhood.  However, the Book Festival is held at the Inner Harbor now and I love it on the water. Probably the most exciting was when we did the first Super Bowl Parade. That was really, really cool.

6a. Was BOPA involved in both Super Bowl Parades and just the first?

We coordinated both of the Super Bowl Parades – makes me smile thinking about it.

6b. Are you a Ravens fan?

Yes!

6c. A lot of people are saying next year is our year [to win the Super Bowl again], so hopefully.

That would be fun! Another thing we’d like to do, hopefully one day, would be a parade for the Orioles.   We did do one, but we won’t mention how long ago that was. A couple of years  back we got excited about the possible chance of doing something, and I think we even met with the Orioles, but..   Now this is going way back, I’m telling my age.  When Cal Ripken hit 2,131 [games], we did a parade for him- marching bands, floats, etc.   The parade went down Charles Street, and somehow Sports Illustrated got a great picture of the float going down Pratt Street with me and another staff person walking behind the float.  The picture was in the special issue of the magazine dedicated to Cal.   I always said I was going to get a copy of the magazine, but never did.  I’ve done and seen a lot of amazing things working at BOPA.

  1. Tell us a little bit about your background and when you started working with BOPA.

I’m not from Baltimore originally, I moved here in 2002 to go to MICA. I studied sculpture at MICA, but I did a lot of community-based things in neighborhoods and after school programs. I was really interested in learning about the city, because I wasn’t from here. Everything about different neighborhoods’ histories really excited me, so I did a lot off-campus learning about different communities. After I graduated from MICA in 2006, I started working at Parks & People Foundation as an Americorp, but ended up staying on there for 3 years. In that position I worked with a lot of community groups and Friends of Parks groups while doing my own artwork.  I started at BOPA in 2013 after taking a break from working full-time when we had our second son.  This position opened, and if I was going to go back to work, I was really excited to work for BOPA. Over that time I had been doing projects that were funded through BOPA and I did work for Artscape almost every year, so I was really excited to be a part of this side of it.

2. What is the Percent for Art Program and Public Art Commission? What types of work get created from both?

The traditional field of public art emerged around the idea of using or commissioning art to improve a specific place. We tend to track public art back to a movement in the 1950s-60s called the Percent for Art Movement. In the 50s-60s, buildings got more modern, and a lot of the adornment was taken away so the addition of art became a separate thing. So cities began creating Percent for Art Laws; Philadelphia was the first, and Baltimore was the second city to have such a law. The idea being, when a new project was built with public money—anything from a swimming pool to a park to a building—that the city should set aside 1% of that funding for art. The idea of including art is great, but someone has to figure out how to find and select artists, bring the artists on board in the middle of this construction project, and manage the project between the builders and the artists. That’s where the Public Art Commission and project managers come in. The Public Art Commission is appointed by the Mayor and oversees the spending of the money and approves the artists that get picked.  Myself and our staff act as the liaisons between the artists, the projects and the Public Art Commission. We write the calls for artists, find out what projects are coming up, try to preserve artworks that have been built before and have monthly meetings to present on the status of current projects and discuss upcoming opportunities.

3. How do Public Art and the Percent for Art Program fit into the larger mission of BOPA to make Baltimore a more vibrant and creative city?

In the guidelines for the Percent for Art program, it states that the mission of putting art in public places is to enhance the lives of citizens and viewers, and to allow opportunities for artists to use as much creativity and imagination as they can to enhance the built environment. When this works out it’s really beautiful, and artists can really enhance the quality of urban life, and add a little magic to someone’s daily experience.  We just did a project for the Waverly Library, after the library got completely renovated. Ebon Heath made a beautiful relief behind the circulation desk that comes off of the wall in different layers and it’s all composed out of words that were collected from the community. So every time someone comes in there they can look for their name or their words, its mesmerizing and you can get lost in it. When the Canton Library was renovated, the artist there, Julie Girardini created boat sculptures to reference how close Canton is to the water’s edge.  One of the sculptures contains little pages of images, like a book within the sculpture. When you start turning the pages you realize all the images are historical pictures from the Canton area and the ship building history of Baltimore. In both cases these artworks are not just decoration, they spark your imagination, and also remind you to think of the bigger picture of where you are.

4. What is the process for commissioning a new piece of public art?

Most Percent-for-Art projects start with a Request for Qualifications. We are usually not asking for proposals or ideas, because that would require the artist to provide their ideas for free and on Percent-for-Art Calls we want them to develop their concepts once they have the commission. So the Public Art Commission looks at the applications and selects an artist, the artist develops concepts and again presents their concepts to the Public Art Commission.  When the concepts are approved they start designing all the details of the project. Throughout the process, they have to come back and talk through elements of the project with the Commission from design details to material choices. Then, they install the work. When the work is completed, it is under warrantee for a year with the artists, meaning that it’s their responsibility if it breaks or falls down. After that, it’s part of the city’s collection and it’s up to us to maintain it with the owing agency.

 

 5. What are some of the biggest challenges you face working with public art projects?

One of our biggest challenges is conveying to some of the partners we work with, what the benefit of public art can be. It’s easy to say that art would either slow down a project or detract from it, when it would actually benefit it a lot. The artwork we are adding to these public locations is not just decoration or an add-on. They are sometimes integrated into the function of the space or location, in other ways they go beyond just filling the wall, and speak to the history of the future desires of that community.

Any challenges with selecting the artists?

The hardest part with selecting artists is seeing so many talented artists and not getting to select them all. The selection process and seeing them come up with the ideas is the most fun. I love the artist selection process because it brings together people from the neighborhood, people from the facility and people from the Public Art Commission. So you get to talk to different folks and learn what they value and what’s important to them. The stories that come out of that are really interesting and I like getting to know the people and the neighborhoods throughout that process. That larger group narrows down the applicants from anywhere from 50 applicants to four to seven recommendations. So that group has done so much work to make sure that their recommendation gets a fair chance. Then, the smaller group goes to the Public Art Commission and they decide the final selection. It’s a very democratic process, it feels like you’ve had this primary and then it goes to the Electoral College or something like that.

  1. What are some of the biggest rewards from working with public art?

So we are about to have the unveiling of the Waverly library art project tomorrow (Friday). I’ve been here three years and that’s the second full project I’ve seen from beginning to end. I think the biggest reward is having someone put their art in and watching them hand off their project. Also seeing the pride in those folks that helped select it and helped work with it, and now they’re like, “I helped get that there.”

If you and your family live in the same place for a long time, you see the environment change. Even though artwork is such a small piece of that, it’s really been amazing to be in Baltimore for 14 going on 15 years, have a family here and being able to go “When I moved here that mural was different, but we restored that 3 years ago, and now it looks like this.”

  1. Anything else you want to add?

There are so many public sculptures that fall outside of the public art program but still make the city really interesting. You can study the history of those objects and learn a lot about the city. Like last year, we had a special commission to review the Confederate Monuments in the city. I learned so much about how they were made and the history of Baltimore that I thought I knew, but didn’t really know.

debbiedorsey-3

Q. What is BOPA’s Film Office responsible for?

A. The Baltimore Film Office is responsible for marketing Baltimore as a destination for film production companies to do business in the city. We are trying to attract these companies because they provide an enormous economic benefit to the city by creating jobs, supporting small businesses and the general economic activity. We’re also showcasing all types of locations that the city offers. Once they decide to come here, we’re the liaison between the production company and city agencies, so we expedite all the city services like getting permits for a street closure.

Q. What is your role with the Baltimore Film Office?

A. I am the director of the Baltimore Film Office. In the industry, I’m referred to as the Film Commissioner. And this was a great fit, it’s really important for the director to have experience in the film industry. Fran Carmen, who is the logistics coordinator for the Film Office, and I both have been doing this for 30 years. Fran worked for DOT (Department of Transportation) and I was a location manager. My first feature was Avalon in 1989, before that I worked on commercials.

Q. About how many projects get filmed in Baltimore annually?

A. Every year we get about 100-120 projects. In Fiscal Year 16, we had 135 projects shoot in Baltimore.

Q. So it’s not all movies and TV shows that get filmed here?

A. No, for instance we have Audi doing an electric car commercial here Friday night, these types of productions are a big part of our market -commercials, independents, political shots, reality shows, still shoots – all of these productions hire local crew and actors and contribute to our economy.

Q. How do you think filming in Baltimore is beneficial to the city i.e. economically, or with perception?

A. Part of why this industry is important besides the jobs and the economic impact is tourism—when people see places on the big screen they want to come see where certain things are filmed. There are places in Hairspray and some of the older films and on a bigger scale like Wedding Crashers, people will go to Easton to stay at the Inn at Perry Cabin or sail on the Schooner Woodwind, so film tourism is a big thing. I always look at it in a positive way, that this is an industry that creates jobs and economic impact as well as a sense of pride of having something filmed in your city.   Filming presents us as a diverse city because we have so many different looks—we have modern buildings, we have seaports, we have historic buildings and amazing architecture throughout the city.

Q. What is your favorite part about working with the Baltimore Film Office?

A. I like challenges and problem solving and every day is something new. It’s constantly changing. I like being out in the field and exploring Baltimore. I think one of the reasons I went into location managing to begin with is, because I travelled and backpacked through Europe after college and I loved it.

 Q. What is your favorite film/tv show that you’ve worked on that’s been filmed here?

A.For me, it’s personal because I was a location manager on Avalon so that was my favorite. It was a big budget film for that time; it was Barry Levinson’s love story to Baltimore about his family coming from Russia to Baltimore. It spanned many periods starting in 1919 so it was a beautiful period film.

Q. You’re BOPA’s Cultural Affairs Director. What does that mean?

A. I oversee the Cultural Affairs department, which carries out most of the arts council functions of BOPA, the city’s arts council, events center and film office. So that means we have grant programs, education programs for children and adults, an arts center at School 33 and exhibition spaces at the Bromo Tower and Top of the World. We work with other arts organizations in the city on different projects as much as possible to build up the arts community.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your history. When did you begin working at BOPA?

A. I moved to Baltimore 17 years ago in 1999 from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. I began working in Baltimore at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where I was administrative assistant to the contemporary art and painting and sculpture departments. I moved to BOPA in 2002, and I’ve been here since then.

Q. What roles does the Cultural Affairs department play in the arts community specifically with opportunities for artists?

A. We work very closely with the events department here at BOPA to offer employment opportunities for artists—to present their work, design work, to help us install work and perform at various events like Light City, Artscape and the Baltimore Book Festival. We also work in partnership with many different groups to strengthen the arts community by administering grant programs such as the Creative Baltimore Fund, Free Fall Baltimore, Neighborhood Lights, the Transformative Art Prize and Lots Alive program that fund art projects within the community. These are all programs that bring together artists and communities, to enliven our neighborhoods and provide artists with opportunities to work in the community.

Q. People might not realize the importance BOPA places on arts education. Can you talk a little bit about BOPA’s arts education initiatives?

A. We have a program called Bright StARTs, which works with already established after school programs to provide arts education to students. We provide artist teachers and supplies and place the teachers in various after school programs as needed. After school is such an important time, a lot of kids have parents who work so they go to after school centers until their parents come home. Helping the centers with quality programming is a big part of the Bright StARTs program.

We are also beginning a program that will focus on Baltimore City artists that are involved in the 2017 Light City festival. The program will feature them along with educational information for teachers so that they can use the information in their classrooms to explain contemporary art and show it to their students. It’s often an area that teachers are not that well versed in and don’t understand well, so this is going to help them not only to find out what artists are doing in Baltimore but to find out what contemporary practices are in place. It’s a tremendous opportunity to involve the teachers and through them their students in the kind of work that’s going to be on display at Light City.

We’re also going to be starting a new program called the “Youth Arts Council” where we’re inviting teens who are interested to develop and execute teen activities for our major events like Light City, Artscape and the Book Festival. We’re also going to be focusing them on policy, how policy is developed particularly around art education in schools. This will kick off in the new year.

Q. What is your favorite program that you’ve worked on through BOPA and why?

A. I’d say Free Fall is my favorite. We developed it in 2006 and I’ve been the person that marshals that program every year. I love to give people the opportunity to perform and show what they do. It’s not just performance, but speakers, readings, dance, theater and film – it’s a wide variety of artistic practices that go on in the city that are all highlighted by Free Fall Baltimore. I think it’s the program that covers the most territory, and it’s sort of a unique model in that we work with organizations that are doing programming already and provide them with marketing by sending people to the website. So it really is an open invitation to the city to participate and to explore the cultural activities and opportunities that are out there.

Bonus Questions…

Q. How did Free Fall get started?

A. Free Fall got started in 2006 when the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) and the Walters came to the city and wanted to eliminate ticket prices to get into the museums. They wanted support from the city for that for a certain number of years, and we went to bat with them for that and the city agreed. In discussion, we felt like this needed to be bigger than just the BMA and the Walters, and we wanted to have the entire cultural community participate. So we said lets expand on the idea of free entry for the museums and ask the cultural community to do free programming in October. The first year we did October and November but we chose October because it’s National Arts and Humanities month, which is a federal designation that the whole country participates in. We felt like this was the best way to involve the community and to provide them with opportunities to enjoy everything that Baltimore has to offer culturally.

Q. Do you ever find that it’s difficult to select a recipient when you have open applications for artists and communities?

A. Luckily, we don’t have to pick the person or organization, we have a public process where we invite other folks in to take a look at the applications and make decisions. So we’re not in the position of choosing our friend or not choosing our friends. We bring in outside experts to take a look at the applications, that way we get a more appropriate way of dealing with entries and also outside expertise to make those decisions. I’m very glad we’re not in the position of picking and choosing the folks who are chosen for any of our projects. Using an outside panel is the industry standard for making selections.

Q. Anything else you want to add?

A. We have a great team in Cultural Affairs. We have 9 people [in our department] and everybody works their heart out for their own programs and the larger team. I think we’re doing terrific work in Baltimore and we’re trying to be more vocal about the work that we do and our achievements and the partnerships we have in the community. As the arts council, we want people to recognize us [BOPA] for all of the great things that we do.

Get the inside story on Baltimore’s arts council, events agency and film office and how it operates with executive director Bill Gilmore.

Q. Tell us a little bit about the history of BOPA and how it came to be the organization that is today.

A. In the 1970s, the office was originally known as the Baltimore Office of Promotion & Tourism because we managed the tourism business back when there really wasn’t a lot of tourism product in Baltimore. Things were just getting started at the Inner Harbor, before Harbor Place, the only things that were down there were the Constellation and the Science Center. Then when the Convention Center was built, they established what was called the Baltimore Convention Bureau, which managed meetings and conventions. In the late 80’s, the Convention Bureau took over the tourism function to create the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, so we dropped the “T” and operated as the Baltimore Office of Promotion for a number of years. During the O’Malley administration in the early 2000’s, we added the “A” by combining the Mayor’s Advisory Committee of Arts and Culture with our office to become The Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and when you began working at BOPA?

A. I started in 1980 as a graphic designer. I was recently out of the Master’s program at the University of Baltimore and was hired as a part-time graphic artist. Over the course of time, I moved into the art director position, then the opportunity came to become what was then the promotions director, responsible for all the special events. I became the deputy director in the late 1980s, and during the Schmoke administration I was appointed director. So it was a combination of right place, right time, and opportunity.

Q. What does BOPA do specifically for artists and cultural organizations in Baltimore?

A. Obviously we’re a funder, and we’ve been very fortunate to have secured the resources to support programs like the Transformative Art Prize, the Sondheim Prize, our newly created Municipal Art Society Public Art Prize, and the City’s Creative Baltimore Fund. We have programs and grant dollars to actually commission work from artists, and through our events like Artscape, Light City, and the Book Festival, we are able to engage the arts community through commissions, programming and performances. We hire a lot of arts educators to staff Bright StARTs and our other arts education initiatives. Every day we get emails or the phone rings from artists or arts organizations that are looking for resources, advice, or opportunities to collaborate.

Q. With only a 50-person staff, how does BOPA manage to coordinate all of its programs? (more than 30) while serving as the city’s arts council, events agency and film office?

A. The dedication of the staff, without question, is the #1 ingredient to make all of our programs successful, because you can administer a lot of things and not have the success and positive outcome that we have. People tend to really get into the rhythm of the organization and events that we do annually and seasonally and enjoy making such a positive impact. Our job is to provide a diversity of opportunity, fun events and educational programming. It has a profound impact on the quality of life for the people who are living here and working here, and brings joy to people who are visiting. So, it’s a lot of work, don’t discount that, but I think the team effort and positive outcome is what motivates us and keeps things moving forward.

Q. What is the most rewarding thing about being BOPA’s Executive Director? Would you say it’s contributing to the positive impact on the city and quality of life?

A. Yes, on many different levels. I think a lot of people don’t realize the jobs that we help facilitate. I mentioned the artists and performers that we hire, but that has a lot of residual effects to secondary spending. A big part of our budget goes into the local economy, and we’re providing job security for a lot of artists. And I think it’s rewarding just in its diversity, we do so many different things and there’s always that next big event.

 Q. What is your favorite thing about Baltimore?

A. Baltimore is a wonderful place to live. Its geography, being on the water in the mid-Atlantic region, it’s close to so many different things. I think that the pride that people have for the city manifests itself in so many unique ways artistically, but also there’s a sense of camaraderie and collaboration here. I’ve heard so often from people that have moved here how thrilled they are with how people are nice and want you to succeed. People really want to work together and see things through collaboratively.

Q. What is one thing that you like to do in your free time that people might not know?

A. I like to play with my dog, Archie, a black lab rescue.

Q. What exciting things does BOPA have coming down the pipeline in the future?

A. Light City returns for its second year in March. And hopefully, we’ll be producing an Orioles celebration for the winning of the World Series this year. We last had one in 1983.