n Seeks state designation" /> Leonardtown wants to be known as center for arts -- SoMdNews.com



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Flavio Bardales sat at a table longer and wider than a door, with a rainbow of acrylic paint and several brushes at arm’s reach. Looking out an old floor-to-ceiling window, back at his canvas, out the window again, he immortalized a sliver of downtown Leonardtown.

Bardales, 15, a student at the Yellow Door Art Studios, was busy completing his assignment — to paint in the style of Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden, embracing the world around him and adding something unexpected.

That’s the spirit leading Leonardtown’s mayor, town administrator and artists to secure a designation as a Maryland art and entertainment district. The deadline to submit a letter of intent to the state is Feb. 1.

The town will prepare a more thorough application in February, hold a public hearing at the town council meeting March 11 and submit the final application by April 1.

“Part of the benefit is to get statewide recognition,” said Mayor Dan Burris. A Maryland arts and entertainment designation could draw more visitors and bolster business. It could garner tax credits for qualified property owners who make renovations and offer income-tax credits for artists living and working in the community. The designation also allows for exemption from Maryland’s admissions and amusement tax, charged in part on the sale of merchandise and refreshments where entertainment is offered. Current arts and entertainment districts include Annapolis, Salisbury, Silver Spring, Frostburg and Havre de Grace.

Leonardtown unsuccessfully applied for an arts and entertainment district designation in 2001, but some agree the town is much better prepared now to make a viable bid. Over the years, the Leonardtown Arts Center and galleries have arrived just steps off the town square. Restaurants and live music are part of the town’s new energy, said Barbara Bershon, who lives in Leonardtown and is chair of the Maryland State Arts Council. “It’s exciting to see the growth,” she said.

People look for downtowns that are alive, said Joe Orlando, owner of Fenwick St. Used Books and Music downtown. But the square’s small-town intimacy will remain, he said. “We’re not going to have L.L. Bean or Restoration Hardware move in,” he said. The Route 235 corridor, “with their chain restaurants and big box stores,” is exactly the opposite of what the arts community wants for Leonardtown, said Orlando, a bass guitarist with a hankering for the blues and dancer who trained and taught in Germany, France, Japan and, he said, in 38 states.

Orlando also is working with a group interested in rebuilding the movie theater downtown, behind El Cerro Grande restaurant. “The arts,” Orlando said, “are alive and well in Leonardtown.”

Art also is directly related to economics, said Carrie Patterson, who owns Yellow Door Art Studios and teaches art at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Teaching children to draw helps them make beautiful lines as architects and engineers or textile designers, affecting trade and commerce. Beyond dollars and cents, Patterson said, art is a way to “tell stories about our families and our culture and what we value.”

An arts and entertainment district designation “would be good for young people — people of any age,” said Bardales, adding strokes of steel gray and sky blue to his canvas, vitalizing the side of a building and a parking lot. “We could see more artists showing off their talents. It can help people open their minds and see the world as art.”

nclark@somdnews.com