Silver Spring applies for renewed arts funding

Pyramid AtlanticSilver Spring’s Arts and Entertainment designation was an incentive for Pyramid Atlantic to move here from Riverdale.

This fall, Silver Spring will apply to renew its designation as an Arts and Entertainment District, allowing the area to continue receiving tax benefits to encourage artists and arts-related businesses to move to Silver Spring.
The Montgomery County Department of Economic Development and the Silver Spring Regional Center will collaborate to draft the application, with assistance from the Silver Spring Arts and Entertainment Advisory Committee, according to Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Center. County officials will submit the application by Oct. 1 to the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED).
The submission of this application would renew Silver Spring’s decade-long status as an Arts and Entertainment District, first granted in January of 2002.
According to Jesse Rye, program director of the Maryland State Arts Council, the financial incentives that an Arts and Entertainment District receives are threefold; developers are granted property tax credits for constructing or renovating space used by artists or arts organizations; resident artists are exempt from income tax on artwork sold within the district; and arts venues are exempt from the Admission and Amusement tax.
Resident artists and local arts organizations may also receive financial assistance from the Maryland Economic Development Assistance and Authority Fund, a component of the DBED.
The Arts and Entertainment District covers the basic area of Downtown Silver Spring, about 360 acres of land, Rodriguez said.
But ten years ago, this same region that is now covered with arts-related businesses like the American Film Institute, the Bonifant Theatre Space and the Silver Spring Civic Building, was not nearly as developed. So the first application to become an Arts and Entertainment District had less tangible evidence of the cultural vibrancy of Silver Spring. “Ten years ago there was nothing. We had to scramble. It was all about the potential,” Rodriguez said.
Now, multitudes of arts and entertainment organizations have flourished under the state designation.  Jose Dominguez, member of the Silver Spring Arts and Entertainment Advisory Committee said the title as an Arts and Entertainment District was a major incentive for him to move his art gallery Pyramid Atlantic from Riverdale to Silver Spring in 2003. “It made being here just that much better and it helped us get the support from the state that we needed and weren’t able to get elsewhere,” he said. For smaller local businesses like his, Dominguez said the recognition from the state is extremely valuable.
“One of the biggest things for us is the profile. It lends us credibility when we put in our grants applications,” he explained.
And as new businesses flocked to Silver Spring, the existing ones prosper as well. Increased popularity of the area means more business for the other restaurants and stores in Silver Spring. “As more people come into the area to take advantage of all the opportunities here, I think that would be better for all businesses,” Dominguez said.
But the designation as an Arts and Entertainment District has benefitted Silver Spring in more than its economic growth. “I think that the county was wise to promote Silver Spring as an Arts and Entertainment district not only for economic benefit it brings, but for the support of the local diverse community,” said Alan Bowser, a member of the advisory committee and president of Silver Spring Town Center Inc., a non-profit that organizes cultural programs for the Civic Building and Veterans Plaza.
Focusing on the arts and culture of an area is a way to celebrate the diversity of the community and brings residents together as they all flock to the local food and entertainment.
“It gives you more opportunity to go out and have a cultural experience, and that tends to make it a very positive place to live,” Dominguez said.
But the redevelopment of Silver Spring is certainly not complete, said Bowser, and could benefit from the re-designation.
“Other areas could use the economic stimulation and publicity that an Arts and Entertainment District could give them,” he said, citing Long Branch and Fenton Village as areas that are not yet as developed.
In 2001, former state senator for District 20 Ida Ruben led the campaign to pass the Smart Growth bill, which created the concept of Arts and Entertainment Districts. The bill aimed to support culture and arts throughout Maryland, and Ruben saw it as the perfect way to help get Silver Spring back on its feet – “We needed to turn it around,” she said.
Ruben wanted to pass the bill and create an environment in Silver Spring similar to that of Soho, one full of artistic energy and life. Her work to expand the legislation over the years paid off; the Arts and Entertainment District has helped Silver Spring develop its identity as a center for artistic and cultural programs.
There is little doubt that the area will regain its designation when the Secretary of the DBED announces the decision Dec. 1.
“Artists are very much about asking questions and taking something people see one way and making it something else,” said Dominguez, “and I think in Silver Spring there’s a lot of room for that.”

Photo Caption: Silver Spring’s Arts and Entertainment designation was an incentive for Pyramid Atlantic to move here from Riverdale.

About the Author

Laura Anthony
Laura Anthony was a 2011 summer intern at The Voice, reporting on local trends and culture. She is currently a student at the University of Pennsylvania.