Ada Ghuman, the newly elected chairwoman of the Laurel Arts District Committee, admits she has a lot of work to do in her new role.
The city formed the district along Main Street in the northern part of the city in March 2011 — with the heart of the district being along C Street — in hopes of creating a place that will attract visitors, provide a place for artists to live and work, and give the city an economic boost.
However, aside from the Venus Theatre playhouse, the C Street Gallery and a few non-arts related businesses, much of the rest of C Street is vacant storefronts.
“There are many challenges, but the first is to continue to find ways to reach out and explain the positive impact of the arts to our community,” said Ghuman, who has chaired the six-member committee for two months.
Ghuman said a strong arts district can provide educational and entertainment opportunities as well as draw visitors who will spend money not just on the arts, but on local businesses, drawing in more business establishments.
She said that with sufficient public support, other challenges, such as funding and promotion, will fall into place.
The committee she leads is unfunded and entirely volunteer-driven, Ghuman said. The group was only able to fund last year's arts festival through public and private sponsorships.
Karl Brendle, Laurel’s director of Community Planning and Business Services, said the city’s focus has been on the construction of a multi-use building of artist studios and residences on C Street, which may give the district a needed boost. The studio construction, located at the site of the old police station, is expected to begin this spring.
Last year, Ghuman, an acrylic artist, joined the Laurel Arts District Exploratory Committee, which was then chaired by Venus Theatre owner Deb Randall. Randall left the committee after the exploratory aspect was dropped from the group’s mission earlier this year.
Randall said she would like to see the city focus more on providing incentives to arts businesses already established in the district and pursue state recognition of its arts district.
State recognition would provide grant opportunities, support and promotion for the city’s arts district if approved, but the list of criteria that must be met for the recognition is long, and includes a paid management component.
Brendle said the city is not yet ready to apply for state recognition.
“These things don’t just happen overnight,” Brendle said.
Ghuman said that collaborative arts events such as the “C Street Laurel Arts Festival” held last June and the 2012 Experience, a four-month multimedia exhibition that ended Dec. 8, can help boost the district by raising public awareness of local arts.
The 2012 Experience — a 14-week multimedia art showing, with paintings and other exhibits, also featuring poets, musicians and other local live performers — was put on by artist Karen Isailovic, creator of Laurel Factory, an organization formed to promote local artists and performers, and was hosted at the C Street Gallery, owned by Abbie Chesler.
"I wanted to bring a combination of art, energy, music, writers, et cetera. Let's slam Laurel with the arts," Isailovic said.
Isailovic said she is currently looking for a more permanent home for Laurel Factory.
Ghuman said the committee is looking for "volunteers committed to growing Laurel's arts scene," and asked that anyone interested should email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last year’s arts festival, held on C Street, attracted more than 400 visitors, according to Ghuman, and this year she hopes the event, scheduled for June 8, will be even bigger, but construction of the apartment/studio complex on C Street, expected to take at least a year, would impede access.
Ghuman said the committee is currently working with the city to find an alternate location for the festival.
"My hope, and I think the hope of all the committee members, is that we can show how important the arts are to this community," Ghuman said. "Right around here, we have towns such as Baltimore and Hyattsville that show this is a good start for economic growth, and also for community, personal growth."