Though Wheaton has been designated an Arts & Entertainment District for nearly six years, Mid-County Regional Services Director Ana Lopez van Balen says there is still a lot of work ahead to embody that distinction.
She plans to meet with Suzan Jenkins, CEO of the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, and representatives from established arts groups in the community on Tuesday to brainstorm plans to boost a “unified vision” within Wheaton that is centered on the arts.
Wheaton’s designation as an Arts & Entertainment District is meant to encourage artistic enterprise, primarily through tax credits, said Peter McGinnity, manager of the county's Wheaton Redevelopment Program.
Commercial property owners who renovate their spaces to build production studios or performance spaces within an Arts & Entertainment District are entitled to waive amusement taxes that are normally built into ticket prices and income tax credits for crafts sold, he said.
“A lot of businesses are being asked to do more with less right now,” Jenkins said. “While it’s not possible to do more with less, it is possible to have more focus with less.”
Van Balen hopes the discussion, with the guidance of the council’s expertise in branding, will help develop ideas and events that resonate with the community and utilize the arts as a way to personify Wheaton’s identity.
She said that ideas from pop-up art galleries, limited-run shows and specific cultural celebrations could be implemented, while Jenkins mentioned that she hopes to see a performing arts venue in Wheaton one day.
“I was also thinking we could have night festivals, which speak to a different group or population that might want to come to Wheaton,” van Balen said. “Right now we do very little in the evenings.”
Jan Goldstein, founder of Arts on the Block, an artistic youth outreach program based in Wheaton for the past six years, hopes that the district designation will eventually bring artists to establish studios to create and sell their work in Wheaton.
“I would love to see a building in Wheaton become a Torpedo Factory-type building, where [artists] could possibly live and work,” Goldstein said. “They would support the economy by virtue of living here, and it would be amazing for our kids to be surrounded by working artists, for them to see through those windows towards career paths.”
Arts on the Block involves well-known artists in public arts projects, like murals and functional art, within the surrounding communities, but Goldstein is excited for local development with Wheaton teens. “As they grow up they can become contributors themselves, and appreciate the value of public art and good design,” she said.
From diverse ethnic restaurants, the acclaimed Brookside Gardens, landmark establishments such as Chuck Levin’s Music Center and nonprofit groups like Arts on the Block, Jenkins and van Balen feel Wheaton has a lot to offer as an arts district.
Jenkins mentioned that a five-year plan was already in place when Wheaton received the Arts & Entertainment District status in 2006, but it lost momentum with the economic downturn that followed. She wants the representatives at the meeting to determine “which ideas from the old plan are still salient.”
“We want to help businesses that have been negatively affected, whose resources have been diminished,” Jenkins said. Putting focus on Wheaton’s Arts & Entertainment District status should act as a magnet for business. “This will be a great catalyst for economic development,” she said.
Wheaton is one of three Arts & Entertainment Districts in Montgomery County, along with Bethesda and Silver Spring. “To activate Wheaton could be a beautiful complement to the other two districts,” said Jenkins. “It would be a huge coup for Montgomery County.”
“I want Wheaton to be known as a place where you can witness and be involved in the arts from a very local perspective, to highlight groups that already exist and integrate new ones,” van Balen said. “I want to create a look for Wheaton that is reflective of the community.”
She says the community already celebrates the arts, from expressions as small as The Limerick Pub's songs to the culinary tours of countless ethnic restaurants and their participation in the World of Montgomery festival.
“Clearly the community wants it,” she said. “But we need to figure out how to activate the designation as an Arts & Entertainment District and make it meaningful.”