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Flash APAP Report, 1-14: Birth of a Presenter
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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