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Light City Baltimore Ideas Session- Art
Location: Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Falvey Hall
Date: April 11, 2015
Organized by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA)

Presentation and Moderation
Bill Gilmore, Executive Director, BOPA
Randi Vega, Director of Cultural Affairs, BOPA
Kathy Hornig, Festivals Director, BOPA
Brooke Hall, What Weekly Studios
Jamie McDonald, Co-Chair, Light City Baltimore Steering Committee

Jamie McDonald opened the info session with a presentation about Light City Baltimore, its vision, potential areas of impact, and long-term goals. Baltimore has a rich history of innovation tied to light: In 1816, Baltimore was the first American city to illuminate its streets with gas lanterns, thus transforming the city with light and revolutionizing the urban landscape forever. It’s with this spirit of innovation and transformation that 200 years later, Light City will paint Baltimore with light and bring together the brightest thinkers.
Throughout the course of the discussion, several comments were made that are not included as questions below. We received excellent feedback from different members of the community, mostly relating to topics of inclusivity and diversity. History organizations, such as the Peale Museum and the Jewish Museum, expressed a particular interest in including Baltimore’s local history as a key focal point within the festival. Other comments focused around diversity, and expressed concern about the segregation of people of color from participation in the arts. There were excellent points raised about where the physical location of events before and during the festival could occur to be more inclusive of different neighborhoods within the city, as well as different homegrown creative expressions that take shape and are visible in different neighborhoods.

Click through to read full notes from this Light City Baltimore Idea Session.

Question 1- I’m a self-taught artist, what can I do as an amateur and where do I fit in with Light City? Where is the room for self-taught artists who don’t necessarily understand protocol but can be that bridge to the outsider art community?

We’re here to assist, to help, to answer questions and to give you any kind of information you might need. Even if you don’t have a resume or formal artist statement, we encourage you to call us for assistance. This is an opportunity to link up with other artists who might be able to offer some help, and potentially create something marvelous- we can help where needed, and certainly don’t let that stop you!

Question 2- How do we submit others who we know of in the innovation side of things? I love seeing how diverse the panel is, and how this can be replicated during the festival.

The Light City Baltimore website will host a speaker portal that people can access and nominate people who might have something to offer for a larger crowd, from all sides of the innovation community. Much in the same way that there is a jury process for the artworks, we imagine having a steering committee that is integral to the jurying process for the Innovation Conference. Diversity is a key component of all of this.

Question 3- I’m mostly in the musical community here in Baltimore, how do you envision collaboration, and how will you connect artists and performers? How you envision that network forming?

There are three tracks in Call for Entry – visual arts and visual art hybrid projects, performance art, and performances and concerts. For artists like yourself who are in the music, theatre or dance communities and who want to be involved and have a performance in Light City but also want to connect with an artist who can create complete visual art/performance, the festival will have a way for people to find each other. We’re looking at developing through the website so you can connect through your own network. As previously mentioned, we’re planning Info Sessions and tours of the harbor area so you can get a look at what sites might be available to you and plan for a specific site that could work for you. This is also a way to meet new people to develop an idea or proposal. We’re very interested in having collaborative performances and hybrid opportunities across the performing arts communities, so we’re working hard to making that happen.

In addition, we’ve also tried to build enough time in the timeline to let those mash ups collaboration happen through the course of the open Call for Entry.

Question 4- How is this festival addressing the lack of African American and other minority people of color in arts administrative positions other than weekend long jobs during the festival?  How it will address the arts silos that exist here in Baltimore?

Getting people of color into the administrative area of the arts is very important to us, it’s a core value at BOPA and it’s a value for Light City. Diversity is very important to us, especially in a city that is sixty percent African American. We need to see more African Americans and Latinos involved. Getting people involved, especially the Urban Arts Leadership Program (UALP) is a huge step in this. One of our long term goals is that the light this festival will shine on Baltimore will help be a job creator and add to what opportunities already exist.

About the silos—for Light City, one of the things we’ve been thinking a lot about is collaboration, specifically to break down roles to help expand practices. Collaboration is one of our key values and very important to us for this reason. We’re very aware of the silo effect in the wider community, not just the arts, but all communities. We want Light City to feel like this is a place where everyone can come together in the umbrella of the festival, and also deal with some of the other issues we’re dealing with in Baltimore. We’re hoping to show you, not just tell you, that that’s what we’re about–and we’re hoping you’ll come back and tell us what we’re doing well next year! Hold us accountable and make sure we’re staying on our toes, keep asking the questions and the door is open, so please stay involved.

Question 5- Have you considered partnering with software developers?  Have you considered how to help make this tech available so other people can learn? Even a traditional artist can learn how to adapt their artwork to something like projection mapping if they had the right resources.

We have, and we want to create these festival opportunities as a place for learning. From the beginning the intent has been “how we can help grow these skills for people in community?” A lot of these skills are going to be coming from the community; we want to see where people can come to the floor to hear about what important to you and how we can create some growth around learning opportunities that incorporate these shared interests.

It sounds like artists could be looking for ways of how to learn skills that can help you adapt your work to be a part of this festival. Something we can start to do is take recommendations from artists and makers to see how we can help facilitate that. We have some great partners like Betamore, who are helping to facilitate but we don’t claim to have all the right access points. Part of our goal here is to help facilitates those points and create opportunities to build this kind of skill learning and sharing, before and during Light City in 2016.

Question 6- Where is community theatre represented in this? There is a huge tap of creative potential, with a community that is already collaborating and using some cutting edge tech that sounds like what Light City is all about. Is there a plan to reach out to the theatre community and how we can be involved?

Yes! We are interested in the theater community and we know that Baltimore has a robust theater community. Let us know how you want to be involved! We want you to come share your thoughts and submit to the Call for Entry; we want to see the dance community involved, too. This is all about light, movement and idea sharing, and we’re all in this together!

We’re also looking for this experience to be incredibly immersive. We want to see visual artists and dancers and others collaborating together to make a sensory experience, the more we can build these the better it is for the festival as a whole.

Question 7-I’m curious about how the funding is coming together, where is the money coming from and how will the future money come in?

Light City Baltimore is a non-profit endeavor. The Mayor and the City of Baltimore have pledged support through city services. The Steering Committee is meeting multiple times each week with the business community and foundation community. Our goal is to raise $4 million in sponsorships to fund the festival. This would cover the entertainment, the commissions of artwork, salaries for staff, fund the website and collateral- everything you need to make this successful in the first years will come from that private sector funding.

Question 8- Audience engagement is a key goal- but who is the target audience? The Inner Harbor is a specific audience, but no one lives down there, so what is that market and how can we expand that market to embrace other communities?

It’s important to know we’re in this for the long haul-we’re trying to make it out of the gate in 2016 but we have a finite amount of resources to make this a success in year one. In its early days, Light City received some great advice to not over extend our reach. The harbor is a place to be “condensed and intense” to start, but we do want to see how this can extend beyond the Harbor in later festivals. We cannot to do it all, but we have a philosophy that “more is more”, so if something is happening somewhere else in the Light City umbrella, we are eager to see how we can support, promote it, and potentially help it grow.

Editor’s note: It’s important to highlight that the Inner Harbor also serves as a major traffic corridor for the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA), and provides an access point to all major forms of public transportation.

Question 9- There are a lot of working neighborhoods across Baltimore, is there a platform for how we can promote the neighborhoods through this festival?

We hope that in the early years we can think about creative ideas of how to map the city, and already there are already things that have light as an element in some of these neighborhoods. We want to promote where light is doing something interesting in our wider neighborhoods, but also consider collaborations in your own neighborhoods and how this can come to fruition as a part of Light City. We hope this can be a platform to cross-pollinate across communities and neighborhoods in Baltimore.

We also want to help people reimagine the harbor, which was originally designed to be everyone’s backyard, and as a place to come together and do things. We, as residents of the city, have moved away from this idea in recent years. It’s very accessible and we want to promote this as a way for people to access the harbor as their backyard, as it was initially intended to be when it was conceived by former Mayor Schaffer.

There are some sources of funding like the Transformative Arts Prize that go to neighborhoods that are working in collaboration with artists. Thinking in 2016 and beyond, how can we use these grants to put your neighborhood on the map? We’d like to hear more from the community about this issue.

Question 10- What is the level of commitment in using this festival as a modality to address social issues in this city?  We have a lot of examples of what Light City is going to be modeled after, but what purpose and audience does this really serve? Can a festival like Light City truly call itself transformative?

We really believe that yes, Light City can have a transformative effect on a city. The question is how can a festival like this really raise these issues in a significant and meaningful way? Can we bring visitors and residents to experience something that blows their mind? We can! And, over time, transform the ways that people view the city by engaging with these issues and working with people who express a desire to be a part of that work. This level of transformation that Light City endeavors to achieve is the kind which sets the stage for people to move back to the city, get businesses back, creates jobs and a workforce that can move from within the city. This can be transformative as an economic development driver, and that is a part of how we see this moving forward and really creating impact and change for Baltimoreans in a tangible way, albeit in the long-term.

We also don’t want to produce “arts for art’s sake”–we are building from the ground up with these core values, and we want and expect people to hold us accountable to these values.

Question 11- There is a tendency in the wider art market to expect work for a much lower wage or for free-are artists going to get paid?

Yes, all of the participating Light City artists, performers and makers will be getting paid. Though we have a finite budget, that budget that we are currently raising is specifically earmarked for paying for the art- that includes an artist or performer fee. That said, as a non-profit, we can only spend what we raise- we are very mindful of this issue and are trying to promote best practices with we engage artists for Light City.

Question 12- Is it possible to power this exclusively from renewable energy sources?

Well, we’re not sure. From the very start of this festival, we’ve been talking about this as a concept and talking with potential collaborators to see how we can alternatively power the festival in 2016. It is still something the festival is exploring how to do in a way that doesn’t negatively affect the artworks or the put an undue burden on the artists, but also meet our own expectations of sustainability. No other light festival has tried to power the whole entity just on renewables, so it is a big task. But we are up to the challenge, and we are committed to working with Baltimore based tech and sustainability organizations to make this a reality for Light City.

Question 13- I work with a cultural institution in Baltimore, but don’t really know how we fit in with the Call for Entry or the Innovation Conference,  how can we be involved?

Light City is looking at a number of ways that organizations and cultural institutions local to Baltimore can be involved. For specific questions about your own organization, please contact the Director of Cultural Affairs, Randi Vega at (410) 752-8632.

Question 14- Baltimore has a rich history of hosting all kinds of different festivals, how is this going to add to the festival mix and be different?

What sets this apart is all of the unique components of this festival coming together- the light component, the music component, and also the innovation component. These three areas set Light City apart from other art festivals like Artscape. Of course, Artscape has great art and music, but the use of light here as an innate feature of each artwork or performance creates a different experience for the maker and the viewer. The Innovation Conference adds a layer of outreach that is unique from other festivals that already exist, and will offer educational and professional development opportunities that echo our commitment to engagement and collaboration. We are developing Light City with an eye towards the future, and how this can contribute to creating ongoing opportunities for our local community in the city. Part of doing this successfully means highlighting the many amazing things already happening in Baltimore to an international audience.

Question 15- We have a growing Latino community- where do they fit in, and what is your process of making sure you’re inclusive in this festival and representing the city as a diverse community?

We want to see people who live here at Light City- we want all artists, especially people of color, to have a part and a voice in making Light City a success- we, too, want to accurately reflect the diversity of Baltimore. Part of helping facilitate is this having a translation of the Call for Entry not only in Spanish to work better with the local Latino community, but also French, German and Mandarin, to work with other speakers here in Baltimore and abroad whose first language is not English. We know there are different pockets of community we want to reach, and we want to reiterate that Light City is a festival for all of us. Light City is not something happening to you, it’s happening with you.

Thank you to all those who participated in this event, and provided feedback. A special thank you to MICA for sponsoring this event, and to Anne South, Nathan Best and the Office of Special Events for their assistance in organizing this event for Light City Baltimore.

Disclaimer: These are notes collected from participants and presenters, and are treated with due diligence to the best of our abilities. These should not be considered exact transcripts of conversations held at this event.

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