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2022 Legislative Roundup: New State Funding for the Arts

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Maryland artists, makers, and entrepreneurs received an unprecedented amount of funding support from state lawmakers in the General Assembly session that ended April 11, starting with legislation that provides $5 million for Maryland to establish the nation’s first public network of makerspaces.

Other major financial assistance from the state includes $50 million for pandemic-related relief and recovery grants for Maryland’s arts and tourism sector; $4.4 million for capital projects for three Black arts institutions in Baltimore, and $5 million to upgrade arts-related spaces in Baltimore City public schools.

Another bill created the Maggie McIntosh School Arts Fund, an effort to help Baltimore City public schools pay for arts equipment, supplies, and student art experiences such as field trips and guest instructors in the classroom.

All of this is over and above funds allocated for the Maryland State Arts Council’s annual operating budget.

“This year’s legislative session was critical for us to secure record funding for the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC) and advocate lawmakers for additional COVID relief and recovery funds for arts organizations and artists in dire need of support,” said Nicholas Cohen, executive director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts, in a message posted online after the session ended. 

As part of the state’s $58.2 billion operating budget for fiscal 2023, Cohen said, “we secured a record $28.8 million for MSAC – a near $2 million increase from [Fiscal 2022]. Additionally, lawmakers heard our collective voices and agreed to a $50 million Arts and Tourism Relief Fund.”

Out of the $50 million in the Arts and Tourism Relief Fund, $40 million will be appropriated to the arts council to distribute additional grants for arts organizations and independent artists adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The other $10 million will be invested in local tourism agencies providing much-needed marketing tools for the creative sector,” Cohen said. “All told, the Arts and Entertainment sector in Maryland has now received $100 million from the Maryland legislature in COVID-based support since April 2020 – a testament to lawmakers’ commitment to support all of us during these challenging times.”

 

Open Works. Photo by Joe Hyde for BmoreArt

Maryland Makerspace Initiative

The first-in-the-nation makerspace program was authorized on the final day of the General Assembly’s 2022 session, when legislators voted overwhelmingly to pass Senate Bill 453, sponsored by Senators Cory McCray and George Edwards.

The legislation appropriates $5 million over five years to start the Maryland Makerspace Initiative Program, which will award grants “for the establishment, expansion, and operation of makerspaces in the state.” The program will be administered by the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO), a business development arm of the state, similar to the way the state arts council administers grants for artists and arts organizations.

Although precursors go back half a century or more, the current maker movement began around 20 years ago and has grown into an international phenomenon that has been called The New Industrial Revolution. It encompasses a wide range of participants, from DIYers and computer geeks to artists and artisans. Painters, sculptors, jewelers, quilters, carpenters, programmers, and many others could all be considered makers.

A makerspace is generally defined as a place where people come together to create, invent, and learn. Typically open to people of all ages, these DIY spaces can be part of a school or library, or a standalone facility. They can be public or private; some are found on college campuses or in industrial zones. They generally contain a variety of equipment, including 3D printers, laser cutters, craft and hardware supplies, software, and sewing machines.

For the purpose of allocating funds, Bill 453 defines “makerspace” as “a community space that provides access to tools, technology, and knowledge for learners and entrepreneurs; results in the prototyping or creation of physical goods; and supports the development of educational opportunities for personal growth, workforce training, and early-stage business ventures.”

The legislation also states that the makerspace fund will be “non-lapsing”: funds awarded under the program must be matched by the recipient in the form of money or in-kind contributions, and that no more than $250,000 in financial assistance may be awarded within a single county in a single fiscal year unless there’s approval from two-thirds of TEDCO’s board.

 

Open Works. Photo by Tommy Bruce

‘Historic accomplishment’

Will Holman, executive director of the Open Works makerspace at 1400 Greenmount Avenue in Baltimore, played a key role in advocating for the legislation, and the bill states that TEDCO may partner with Open Works “to provide technical assistance to non-profit entities seeking to establish makerspaces in the state.”

Holman said in an email that the bill’s passage represents a “historic accomplishment for the maker movement” and puts Maryland in a leadership role.

“At least 7 other states have appropriated capital funds for a single makerspace facility somewhere – but no one has had the vision to build a network of truly public makerspaces,” Holman said in his message. “This is an innovation agenda for the 21st century, and Maryland is cutting the path!”

With the $5 million it provides, “this initiative puts Maryland in the position to shape the role that makerspaces play in state and local economies nationwide,” Holman said in a separate message following the vote. “We’re so excited that our lawmakers have seen the value in our State’s makers and entrepreneurs and have chosen, wisely, to invest in them.”

“This is the first state legislation within the U.S. that has invested in a public network of workshops for the people,” wrote Daniel Schneiderman, community manager of Make: Community, on makezine.com

According to a General Assembly synopsis, the bill was drafted for the purpose of: “establishing the Maryland Makerspace Initiative Program… to encourage the establishment of makerspaces throughout the State; authorizing the Corporation to partner with a certain entity to provide technical assistance to certain nonprofit entities and to award certain financial assistance to local governments, certain designees of local government and certain nonprofit entities for the establishment of makerspaces in the State.” 

In addition to the directors of Open Works, a 34,000-square-foot facility that opened in September 2016, others who supported the makerspace legislation included Nation of Makers, a trade organization based in Silver Spring; Stanley Black & Decker; the Maryland Chamber of Commerce; the Rural Maryland Council, and TEDCO. The bill goes into effect on October 1.

In a phone interview, Holman said he defines a makerspace as “a public-access workshop.” He said Maryland has several makerspaces besides Open Works, including ones in Salisbury, Greenbelt, Bethesda, and Annapolis, the “Fab Lab” at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville, and space at the Chesapeake Arts Center in northern Anne Arundel County.

He also mentioned the former Foundry makerspace in the City Garage at Port Covington, which closed several years ago, and a makerspace in Western Maryland that was going to offer memberships for the public but evolved into a workforce development center during the pandemic and currently has no “public-facing” programs. Around the country, he said, there are approximately 2,000 makerspaces but only about 100 the size of Open Works, and only “a handful” that were capitalized, built from scratch, and professionally staffed the way Open Works is. 

Holman said the makerspaces in Maryland all operate on different economic models and are tailored to their individual communities, generally charging membership fees for people who want to use their workshops and equipment and take classes. He said Open Works is a nonprofit operation that had total development costs of about $12 million, including $6.5 million for “hard construction costs,” and it currently has nearly two dozen employees and about 115 members, down from about 300 before the pandemic.

For $80 a month, a Pro Membership at Open Works provides access to the building and its equipment, including seven workshops and a computer lab. Open Works also offers day passes for $20 and a $175-per-month Resident Membership that includes a seven-foot by seven-foot micro-studio. 

Holman said most makerspaces can’t operate on membership fees alone and the state initiative was necessary both to make existing makerspaces sustainable and create new ones where they’re needed.   

At Open Works, he explained, membership fees cover only about half of the operating costs. He said having a state-sanctioned program for makerspaces, offering financial support from the government, means there will be an additional source of funds to assist existing makerspaces in getting new equipment or upgrades and also to help plan new makerspaces with seed money for architects, site surveys, and other pre-opening expenses. Having a network also means that members of a makerspace in one part of the state may have access to a makerspace elsewhere in the state, just like YMCA branches in different areas offer reciprocity to members, he said. 

“There’s a diversity of business models, but nobody’s really solved the problem of how to make a sustainable makerspace because they’re expensive to operate, and in a city like Baltimore, you can’t really charge anywhere near what the resources actually cost in order to support the operating costs solely off of user fees.”

Open Works’ business model “is a lot like the YMCA,” he continued. “It’s about 50 percent user fees and about 50 percent grant funding, pre-COVID anyway. To expand access, to build a technically literate society, to make sure that any citizen who wants [it] has access to industrial tools and can learn how to safely use them, some form of subsidy is required… It’s time for the state to make a meaningful investment in expanding this infrastructure in other communities that can benefit from it.” 

Although Bill 453 doesn’t specifically address the formation of a network of makerspaces, that’s what it leads to, Holman said. “That’s the next step of working it out,” he said. “The consortium language isn’t directly in the bill. But what this does is enable a consortium to occur… We’ve got to build a couple more makerspaces before we really have a network.”  

Over the next year or so, Holman said, TEDCO will develop a process by which interested parties can apply for funds and criteria to determine who is eligible to receive funds, with the first grants coming after July 1, 2023. In general, he said, nonprofits, municipalities, and county governments will be able to apply for funds. “The language in the bill is fairly broad,” he said. “It’s up to TEDCO to establish the specific criteria.”

Holman said representatives of Howard, Montgomery, Carroll, and Baltimore counties, among others, already have expressed interest, and Open Works has been working with Coppin State University on plans to open a pilot makerspace on its campus in West Baltimore.

Asked how many makerspaces he’d like to see in Maryland, Holman said: “A great starting point would be one in every county… Having the government actually come in and take a stake in this idea, especially for capital costs, which is the hardest part of developing a facility like this, I think really is the path forward to building a sustainable network.” 

Holman said he believes the state’s investment will be money well spent, based on a recent study of Open Works’ first three full years of operation.

“Every politician likes jobs,” he said. “Coppin State did a really great economic development study of us in 2019 that quantified the output of our member businesses and found that we put $5.5 million in the Baltimore economy every year and a shade under $10 million into the state economy every year.”

In addition, “we were generating 400-some thousand [dollars] in state and local taxes every year” before the pandemic, he said. “So we were able to really make an argument that [investing $5 million over five years] is a very inexpensive economic development play from the state’s perspective, but also that it kind of pays for itself over time… When you put it against what the state spends on any other kind of infrastructure or, say, the University of Maryland system, it’s a very cheap experiment for the state with a potentially extraordinary return on investment.”   

Open Works. Photo by Joe Hyde for BmoreArt

Capital funds for three institutions 

In other arts-related allocations from the General Assembly, Arena Players will receive $1.2 million for capital improvements to its theater on 801 McCulloh Street. The Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center at 847 North Howard Street will also receive $1.2 million for capital improvements, and the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum at 1601-03 East North Avenue will receive $2 million for capital improvements. All of those funds are part of the state’s 2023 capital budget, and funds will become available on July 1.

Money from the $50 million Arts and Tourism Relief Fund also becomes available starting July 1. In Maryland’s 2022 budget, lawmakers included $13 million to the state arts council to provide COVID-related relief grants for small arts organizations and $37 million for large arts and entertainment venues such as Baltimore Center Stage, The Lyric, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The $50 million allocation for 2023 brings to $100 million the General Assembly’s COVID-related funding support for the state’s art and entertainment sector.

Cohen said both the $5 million fund to improve arts-related spaces and the Maggie McIntosh School Arts Fund are first-of-a-kind programs for public schools in Maryland. In both cases, funding decisions will be made by city school administrators in consultation with Arts Every Day, an arts education advocacy group.

The Maggie McIntosh School Arts Fund is a permanent, recurring fund named after State Delegate Maggie McIntosh, a longtime legislator and former arts educator who chairs the House Appropriations Committee and last year announced plans to retire at the end of her term. 

The bill was introduced in response to pleas for help from art teachers who say the city school system has lacked sufficient funds to pay for art supplies and equipment or field trips and guest instructors.

The fund is named for McIntosh “in honor of her decades of service, starting as an arts teacher in the city and just being an incredible champion in Maryland for many years in the legislature,” Cohen said. 

Cohen attributed the General Assembly’s unprecedented support for the arts to several factors, including a “massive, grassroots advocacy” effort to convince lawmakers that artists need economic relief because of the pandemic and recognition by lawmakers of how much the arts community contributes to the economy and to local communities.

He said Maryland’s arts and entertainment sector was a $1 billion-a-year industry that suffered an estimated $135 million loss during the pandemic, according to one study. Despite lockdowns and restrictions on public gatherings, he said, artists made it clear to the public that they weren’t going away during the pandemic.

“There are so many different things that have come together,” Cohen said. “A lot of it is [related to] the challenges we faced as a sector because of COVID. Starting in March of 2020, we had huge shutdowns of our venues, and our artists and our creatives throughout the state didn’t have avenues to really make money.

“But all that said, those same creatives and arts organizations still were generating support for communities, whether it was opening up as a food bank or, I recall, Open Works making masks and shields and giving them out to health-care workers. We had lots of community-based arts organizations hosting food pantries and things like that, and artists going out and playing music, doing those Sidewalk Serenades with the Creative Alliance.

“We showed throughout the pandemic that we’re here, we’re staying,” Cohen said. “I think that the General Assembly took note of how much we invest in the community, even in the most challenging times, and they returned that with investment to help our recovery.”

 

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