Erin Fostel on the Citizen Artist Baltimore Listening Sessions

Last night I attended the first of five Citizen Artist Baltimore Listening Sessions at the Windup Space. These public meetings are an opportunity to collectively define current problems, possible solutions, and fresh ideas for Baltimore City. The first session was well attended and included a diverse crowd of artists and cultural institution bigwigs.

I went because I want to be a part of this conversation. I am an artist, but I am also primarily a Baltimorean who has a lot of love for her city.

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The meeting was guided by Graham Coreil-Allen, with Rebecca Chan on boss-level note taking. The group was asked to think about what assets the city currently has in regards to a variety of categories (such as Education, Employment, and Artist Exhibition/Workspace), as well as what the city could use more of. The primary goals of the sessions were to consider the contributions and priorities of Baltimore’s arts communities, and to give mayoral candidates an opportunity to present ways that they would support the arts in Baltimore City. In addition, Citizen Artist aims to motivate anyone who cares about the arts to get registered and vote in the Primary Election on April 26, 2016.

160105-CitizenArtistBaltimore-Central-ListeningSession-02Erin Fostel adds her idea to the board

The majority of the night was spent in group discussion, but post-it notes were also dispensed so we could write down ideas and assign them to various categories presented on the wall. These notes were collected and will be consolidated with meeting notes to create a questionnaire that will be sent to all mayoral candidates. The responses from the candidates will be posted online prior to the primary election in April, so we can learn how a candidate’s view aligns with our own.

I thought the meeting had a vibe of positivity and excitement. There were a lot of people in the room who are passionate about Baltimore, and not surprisingly, had a shared vision of what they think the city needs. A common theme, and one I have heard before, is that artists need to have a seat at the political table. A “Cultural Ambassador” should be appointed to assist in policy development, programming development, basically anything involved with running the city. I think the Citizen Artist initiative is a step in this direction. It is a chance to make our collective voices heard, and hopefully those who run the city will listen up. If not, remember that on election day. You hold power in your vote.

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There are four more Listening Sessions coming up, and they are spread out across the city. A full list can be found on their website. I plan to also attend the Northeast meeting because that is my area of town, and I am curious to know what my community thinks the city needs. I expect some overlap of ideas, but I also think there will be a different perspective. If you cannot attend any of the meetings, there is also a survey on the Citizen Artist website.

The arts and culture contribute so much already to the health of this city. If we can combine our creative energies into other aspects of city policy, everyone will benefit from the positive effects. I urge you to participate in this conversation. You’ve got opinions and ideas, and people are actually listening. And, if you don’t have opinions, get some. This is your city. You should care.

 Author Erin Fostel is a Baltimore-based artist.
Photos courtesy of Erin Fostel, Graham Coreil-Allen, and David Mitchell.160105-CitizenArtistBaltimore-Central-ListeningSession-05
Citizen Artist Baltimore steering committee member CJay Philip