A group of artists and activists who developed Mayor Brandon Scott’s arts agenda are lambasting the Democrat for what they call a failure to consult a meaningful cross section of the city’s arts and culture communities during his tenure.
In a statement provided to The Baltimore Banner, a portion of the mayor’s Arts and Culture transition team, who wrote recommendations that were reviewed by and approved of by Scott and his top aides, said he made a “limited attempt to bring the transition report to life.” The letter comes a day after the resignation of the CEO of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, the publicly-funded nonprofit created to support Baltimore’s art community, following fallout from BOPA’s announcement the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade was cancelled.
The signatories of the letter — Lady Brion, Nicholas Cohen, Krista Green, Denise Griffin, Adam Holofcener, Eze Jackson, Declan McKenna, Ryan Patterson, Jess Solomon, and Maggie Villegas — represent about a third of the transition team. All members were emailed a copy of the letter to review Tuesday night.
“The Scott administration was explicit about their distrust and lack of confidence in BOPA from the start of their conversations with transition team members, but City Hall would not operate in the open about generative ways to move forward,” they wrote.
Months of fruitless back-and-forth with the administration “led to a breakdown in communication,” they added.
The public critique from the mayor’s demonstrated allies is the latest chapter in a debate ignited last week about what role BOPA should serve.
After wide public outcry, including criticism from City Council members, BOPA released a “clarifying statement” that blamed the cancellation on the mayor’s office. Scott’s office responded in turn on Friday night with a call for BOPA CEO Donna Drew Sawyer’s resignation, while the mayor pledged to hold the parade as scheduled. Sources with immediate knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly told The Banner that Drew Sawyer was planning to dig her feet in rather than depart.
On Tuesday, the mayor announced he hired Tonya Miller Hall, a senior member of BOPA’s leadership team, to oversee arts and culture initiatives for Baltimore as a member of his office in City Hall. As Sawyer remained in place, the mayor threatened not to fund the office next year if BOPA’s board didn’t oust Sawyer by Jan. 15. She resigned Tuesday night.
The creation of Miller Hall’s role was in keeping with recommendations within the transition report, which specifically called for a Scott-appointed, cabinet-level position for arts and culture, as well as the creation of an arts and culture advisory board that includes members of grassroots organizations, artists, city and state agencies and Black-led organizations.
“With the appointment of Ms. Tonya Miller Hall as Senior Advisor for Arts & Cultural Affairs in the Mayor’s Office, we now have dedicated personnel in the Mayor’s Office to focus on arts, culture, and community engagement,” Scott spokeswoman Monica Lewis said in a statement. “This administration is ready to listen to all voices to develop and operationalize a shared vision for the future of the arts in our great city.”
Lewis said that the administration has a responsibility to engage with the entire arts community in determining the future of the city’s arts and culture ecosystem.
But the mayor’s transition team members lambasted him for what they said was the full implementation of just a handful of recommendations, such as the enforcement of the 1% for Public Art Law. The city law was passed in 1964 and mandates that the city set aside at least 1% of costs for every construction project for public artwork.
And while Miller Hall was hired specifically as an arts adviser to the mayor, the transition committee members said Scott hired her without consulting their team or other members of Baltimore’s creative communities.
“Any decisions related to BOPA, and any new Arts and Culture office within City Hall, should be paused until meaningful input from members of his transition team as well as other members of the arts and culture community here in Baltimore City can be consulted,” they wrote.