Oakland resident Mary Sincell McEwen started the new part-time job Monday.
“I’m excited about shining more of a spotlight on our arts communities,” she said.
McEwen said her main duties will be fostering arts activity, promoting and hosting events and helping district artists showcase and profit from their talents.
The county currently has two state designated A&E districts. After an extensive application/approval process, Grantsville received its designation in 2015, followed by Oakland in 2016.
The A&E program began in 2001 under the auspices of the Maryland State Arts Council. There are now 26 official sites across the state. Their purpose is to “help develop and promote community involvement, tourism and revitalization through tax-related incentives that attract artists, arts organizations and other creative enterprises.”
In fiscal year 2018, according to MSAC, the districts collectively supported more than $1 billion in state gross domestic product, approximately $72.1 million in state and local tax revenues and 9,987 jobs that paid more than $320 million in wages.
McEwen credits former GCAC executive director Karen Reckner with sparking local interest in joining the program.
“She’s the one who learned about it down state and thought that Grantsville’s Spruce Forest would be a really good example of a community arts organization,” McEwen said.
GCAC’s current executive director, Kathy Beachler, is the council’s former A&E coordinator.
“She did a lot,” McEwen said.
Beachler’s accomplishments include organizing district fundraisers and garnering much-needed grant money for Grantsville and Oakland.
“So, as I come into this job,” McEwen said, “both arts districts have a $15,000 grant to start working.”
One of her first projects will be establishing a strategic plan for both towns.
“I think that’s really important,” McEwen said. “You have to have a viable strategic plan to remain a district.”
She noted her salary is paid for by GCAC, but Oakland and Grantsville contribute, as well.
“So I really work for the arts council and the towns,” McEwen said. “It’s collaborative.”
She indicated events will also be collaborative efforts between the towns, organizations, agencies and district artists, artisans, performers, writers, musicians and other creative residents.
“It isn’t just about the organizations,” the coordinator said. “It’s about individual artists in our community, to let them know they’re valued and that there is recourse for them to be able to do their work, with some support, tax incentives and things to learn about the benefits of living within a district.”
She noted the districts are clearly defined and plans to compile a list of artists who live within the boundaries.
“I’m hoping that I can bring more attention to fact that we have two Arts and Entertainment districts and, perhaps, entice a few other towns to look into it,” McEwen said.
She stressed Grantsville and Oakland are two very different municipalities with their own distinctive arts identities.
“We don’t want to do anything to disrupt that or change it,” the coordinator said. “We just want to support, promote, enhance and celebrate it.”
A Garrett County native, McEwen is past president of the GCAC board of directors and is involved in numerous artistic endeavors, including the Garrett Choral Society, Garrett Community Concert Band and Our Town Theatre.
She earned a bachelor of fine arts in theater from West Virginia University, and furthered her studies at the University of North Carolina in English and creative writing.
In addition, McEwen is a former co-owner of The Republican newspaper and worked as a journalist and assistant editor for the family-owned publication for about 25 years. She also served as a columnist and the arts and entertainment editor for The Garrett County Republican for about a year.
A freelance writer, McEwen is currently working on two novels and a play. She also hosts a blog, “Mary Writes.”
McEwen and her husband, John, have three grown sons. Rob is a middle school band director in Wheeling, W.Va. Alex is a doctoral student in physics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Michael is working on his master’s degree in creative writing at the University of Kentucky.
For more information about the Garrett County Arts Council, call 301-334-6580 or visit garrettarts.org