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Flash APAP Report, 1-14: Birth of
BlackRock: Good News from Germantown, MD
By Veronica Dittman
Copyright 2002 Veronica Dittman
NEW YORK -- The most wondrous, heartening
discovery this weekend at the Arts Presenters conference came from a conversation
with Betsy S. Platt, who introduced herself as representing a new arts center
in Germantown, Maryland. Incredulous that there could BE such a thing as a new
arts center when the established ones sound so worried about funding, I pressed
for an explanation.
It turns out that yes, the BlackRock
Center for the Arts is a brand new, multi-disciplinary arts center that will be
built in the sprawl north of Washington, DC. My discovery: in some states private
developers who buy up countryside to build housing are required to pay into an
"amenity fund," the use of which is decided by the residents of these new communities.
And the residents of the Germantown area wanted not a skating rink or a rec center,
but an arts center. Ms Platt explained that this bedroom community of 90,000 or
so people is comprised mostly of educated, solidly middle-class young families
who could not necessarily afford to buy their first home within the DC limits.
However, they were apparently so hungry for the cultural resources usually associated
with an urban center that they allocated over $2 million from the area's amenity
fund to start up an arts center.. It's now up to Ms. Platt to raise the rest of
the money for the project, a center that will ultimately have a black box space,
outdoor stage, and small proscenium theater.
My applause goes to the residents
of Germantown, first for making something good come out of an "edge city" development.
I've never been there, but from the context of Ms. Platt's conversation I imagine
it's not too different from other suburbs I have known: neither urban nor rural,
replete with strip malls, totally auto-centric and providing nothing physical
that might reflect or support a coherent social fabric. I hope it's not all THAT,
but to have an arts center arise out of any permutation of what I've just described
is pretty amazing. I'm also impressed with Germantown for disproving the stereotype
that Americans living outside the big city care only about sports and TV. So thank
you, Betsy Platt and Germantown, Maryland, for the first really good news I've
heard this year.
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