The Arts are Alive in the Bel Air Arts & Entertainment District
In Maryland, 24 state designated arts and entertainment districts reflect an area’s distinctive heritage and rich cultural identity.
These designated areas provide tax incentives to attract businesses including those run by artists, providing a significant economic impact from job creation, total wages, state gross domestic product and tax revenue.
According to the Maryland State Arts Council’s Fiscal Year 2016 Annual Report, 14,564 full-time equivalent jobs were generated by arts organizations in FY 2015, generating $422 million in salaries. Across Maryland, jobs supported by the non-profit arts sector pump $422 million back into communities through salaries earned. The report acknowledges that Marylanders value and engage with the arts, which provide many opportunities for learning and cultural enrichment. About 9.2 million people attended arts venues, events, classes and workshops in 2016, which generated $449 million in visitor spending by arts audiences.
“Some people believe that the arts are fluff; that its contributions have a minor impact to our economy and quality of life – but in fact, the opposite is true,” says Trish Heidenreich, director of economic development for the Town of Bel Air. “In communities that have thriving arts districts, you will find a significant percentage of top income earners, high real estate values and enviable quality-of-life metrics.”
Heidenreich cites New Orleans and the New York villages as examples of places around the country that were somewhat downtrodden in years past, until a thriving visual and performing arts scene attracted a critical mass of residents, increasing the demand for real estate and community services.
In Harford County, the Town of Bel Air is a state designated Arts & Entertainment District, featuring artists, businesses, government and cultural organizations. The 99-acre district, located in the heart of the town’s Central Business District, is roughly bound by Gordon Street to the north, Hays Street to the west, Heighe Street to the south and the Shamrock community to the east, and is managed through the town’s economic development department. According to Angela Robertson, economic development coordinator and manager of the arts and entertainment district, arts organizations and their audiences are an economic engine for Maryland, generating monies through their salaries, full and part-time jobs, state and local taxes, and visitor spending on hotels, meals and admissions. Heidenreich hopes that the designation, along with arts initiatives and activities, will attract new residents and services to the area.
“Economic development is all about supporting local business, job creation and creating economic growth,” Robertson says. “One way we do that is through events that create a great quality of life for residents and that draw visitors to Bel Air.”
Those visitors come to the Bel Air Arts & Entertainment District from all over the region. They attend events and visit shops and restaurants and often return, Robertson says.
In addition, the district attracts new business owners. “Entrepreneurs want to open in an area with a lot of activity and a lot going on,” Robertson adds.
One such business is Julie Ellyn Designs Handmade on Main, which opened in October 2016.
“I loved the up-and-coming nature of Main Street and the Town and the Downtown Alliance doing so much to improve Main Street and growing the arts,” says owner Julie Ter Borg, a Bel Air native. “That did factor in my locating here.”
Ter Borg’s unique shop features her own custom jewelry but also the works of local artisans. She also showcases at other venues and art shows.
“I try to feature as many local artists as possible,” says Ter Borg, an epidemiologist who started a side business making jewelry. After selling on Etsy and showing designs on television, she found it difficult to keep up with demand and left her life in the lab.
She opened on Main Street, and owes her success in part to its high visibility and support of the arts with the hosting of festivals, concerts and markets, she says.
“Being on Main Street has made such a difference for my shop,” she explains. “The concept of the shop would not have worked anywhere else. The town is so supportive.”
Another successful Main Street endeavor is the Harford Artists Gallery, which has experienced growth in foot traffic and sales following its move to Main Street in November 2016. More than 15 additional stores and restaurants in the district display and sell work from local artisans.
“It’s a great partnership that has developed,” notes Robertson. “Store owners see the value in being able to feature local artists work.”
The commitment to the arts is important in a time when economic organizations face cuts during budget constraints, and the arts are often limited or eliminated in favor of essential public services like police, public works and transportation, notes Heidenreich.
The Bel Air Arts & Entertainment District has created events and activities aimed at highlighting artisans in the area and helping enhance the area’s growing economy. A market study released in 2016 recommended the branding of arts and entertainment in Bel Air to build the area as a destination for shopping, dining and nightlife. In Fiscal Year 2016, the Bel Air Arts & Entertainment District hosted 10 festivals with a total reported attendance of 65,000. In addition, 79 reported arts events drew over 58,000 attendees. The events include the Belle Aire Market, created in 2016 and moved this year to Office Street next to the courthouse; a BBQ Bash, which attracts upwards of 35,000 over a two-day period annually in August; the Film Festival, now in its ninth year, continues to experience a rise in attendance; and the Bel Air Farmers’ Market, open from April to December, which features live music in the summer as well as the works of local artists in booth spaces in April and November. The Harford County Wine Festival brings visitors from all over the region, and businesses in the area have reported an increase in revenue as a result, according to Donna M. Dickey, chairman of the Harford County Wine Festival.
“If we can keep people downtown shopping, dining and exploring, we feel like we’ve met our goal of positively impacting the local economy,” says Christine McPherson, executive director of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, which partners with the Town of Bel Air to bring visitors to the community and provide a positive quality of life for residents downtown.
“All of those things come together to make Bel Air a great place to live, work and play,” Robertson notes.
Events this Fall
Bel Air Festival of the Arts
Sept. 17, 9am-5pm, rain or shine
Shamrock Park, 39 Hickory Ave.
Continuous free shuttle service from the
MVA parking lot on Route 24
The 52nd annual festival will feature more than 300 booths of fine art, photography and hand-crafted items, including 15 booths managed by youth exhibitors. There will also be continuous live entertainment on the band shell stage and roving entertainment in the seven-acre park. A wide array of festival foods will be available to purchase, and the proceeds will benefit the many programs of Bel Air Parks and Recreation, the event’s sponsor. Last year’s concessions netted the Bel Air Recreation Committee approximately $15,000. The festival attracts an estimated 20,000 visitors from all over the state of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., and the majority of the artisans hail primarily from those areas.
Harford Plein Air Festival
Oct. 8-Oct. 15
Various outdoor locations including Aberdeen Proving Ground,
Ladew Gardens, City of Havre de Grace,
Town of Bel Air, local farms, and
Collector’s Preview Party and Award Ceremony, 7-10pm, Towson University Northeastern Campus in Bel Air, $30 per person
The Harford Plein Air Festival is an annual, week-long outdoor painting competition hosted by Maryland Center for the Arts at several locations in Harford County. Plein air painting (French for “in the open air”) is celebrated as 30 artists from all over the nation are selected through a jurying process to paint outdoor landscapes, cityscapes, and seascapes in Harford County to compete for top awards. Art collectors meet and engage with the plein air artists at a collector’s preview party, artist awards ceremony, public gallery sale, and a one-day quick draw and sale that invites non-juried adult artists and youth artists to participate in plein air painting.
Town of Bel Air Film Festival
Bel Air Reckord Armory, 37 N. Main St.
Admission $5 per film; $10 All Access Pass to all films (children under 10 free)
The Town of Bel Air Film Festival, in its ninth year, is a three-day event featuring four films, typically documentaries and films not found at local theatres. The event draws film enthusiasts to downtown Bel Air, where they dine and shop prior to the screenings. Attendance is usually 400-500 for the event and has steadily increased over the last several years. The admission fee includes popcorn and a drink.
The Belle Aire Market
Aug. 20, Sept. 10, Oct. 8
Downtown Bel Air, Office Street
Admission free; parking free
The Belle Aire Market is a seasonal open air market akin to a Parisian bazaar, featuring antiques and finely crafted artisan items. Among the many available treasures are antique/vintage housewares, furniture, industrial materials, linens, clothing, jewelry, and home décor, as well as handmade artwork, outerwear, stationery, bath products, decorations, candles, lawn art and baby clothes.
Harford County Wine Festival
Sept. 30, Noon-6pm
501 Churchville Road
General Admission Tickets $35 in advance ($50 at the gate)
Each year, the Harford County Wine Festival provides an opportunity for about 3,000 enthusiasts to sample and learn about wines from all over the world. The festival is an annual signature event for the Rockfield Foundation, a non-profit that promotes and operates the historic event destination Rockfield Manor. Proceeds fund the upkeep of the historic manor, which turns 100 in a few years, as well as local community organizations and charities. I95