Classes are starting to fill up at the new Media Arts Hub at Maryland Hall. (Maryland Hall photo)

When Jackie Coleman realized the depth of the economic impact the arts have on a community, she started a local arts media hub in an attempt to institute an ecosystem for the creative sector in Anne Arundel County.

The main number that Coleman, the executive director at Maryland Hall, in Annapolis, reacted to was a robust $151 million. That’s the impact generated within communities across the U.S., according to American City Arts, with “about half of that figure for the jobs created,” she said, with the rest representing monies generated by tourism via hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, etc.

“I thought that number was astounding,” she said, before she used the calculator on the ACA website to ascertain another encouraging number: the estimated economic impact of Maryland Hall, which hit $3.7 million in Anne Arundel County.

To Coleman, that data meant it was time to move forward with a new approach to workforce development.

Free money

Since Coleman arrived at Maryland Hall in March 2022, the art haven’s mission has been clear: “It’s about ‘Arts For All,’” she said, as well as deciphering “what’s happening and who isn’t being served. One area I saw great opportunity for growth in was media arts.”

She eventually came across kindred spirits in the office of County Executive Steuart Pittman, who not only liked that idea but had $50,000 in funding available.

“Then we came up with another $80,000 from private donors,” said Coleman, noting that the $50,000 had to be used for one-time purchases. That money went toward buying all of the equipment for the media center, including a WhisperRoom sound isolation enclosure with a Mac Studio desktop, several audio interfaces and JBL speakers.

“We then used that $80,000 for more equipment and to fund the hiring of Media Arts Manager Imani Washington to take over the center,” she said, which is up and operating on the third floor of Maryland Hall and serving to educate area residents from various walks of life with a diverse group of new instructors. For instance, it’s already being used to train local youth to participate in programs such as Jóvenes Artistas (that’s Spanish for “young artists”), many of which are offered after school. It’s also the home of Community Radio for Arts and the Bay, better known as CRAB Radio, an FM station for budding radio announcers and voice-over talent at 104.7 on the dial.

The plan for the rest of 2023 is to present the Media Hub’s remaining 10 workshops (which cost from $120 to $240) to see which are the most popular and expand those offerings.

Maryland Hall in Annapolis. (TBM / Mark R. Smith)

Building workforce

As for Washington, he arrived at Maryland Hall this past March and is working to “bring the media arts hub to life.”

To that end, “I dove into working with staff, the advisory board and the community to get feedback and find the nuances of what the market demands,” he said, “and we’ve found demand for greater access to media arts and content creation, for instance. The youth of today are tapping into technology as early as age 9, so we’re abiding by our ‘Arts For All’ motto.”  

If that tagline sounds like it was meant to market seniors just as much as young people and the rest of the populace, it was. “They’re often not as technically savvy,” Washington said. “So we’re here to help them, even if they just need to learn how to operate an iPhone.”

Maryland Hall has always offered a range of learning experiences, “but we want to add to them by offering a media arts department that can help build workforce via access to training in a variety of fields.”

Washington also pointed to the continuing education angle. “Some of these older participants may have their own businesses and many want to learn new functions, such as designing their own business cards, resumes or webpages,” he said. “So we have a branding design workshop, for instance, to do just that.”

That offering is among those 10 classes available at the Hub, which provides laptops with software, a full Adobe suite and other software, including less complex gateways like Procreate and Canva for graphic design; and Ableton, for music.

“Our vision is to offer these classes and workshops that cover an expansive range of disciplines, including graphic design, filmmaking, music and digital illustration, among others,” said Washington, who added that the Hall is working to build partnerships and would like to integrate with the Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Anne Arundel Community College and other entities.

Critical thinking

Jeff Harris, a donor, board member and former board chair at Maryland Hall, also stressed its importance for the training opportunities and another benefit.

Those opportunities “are crucial in helping not only young people, but all of our interested residents in developing thinking skills,” said Harris. “Innovation requires creative as well as critical thinking, and various research shows those skills are key” in training the next generation of leaders.

“I’m an engineer by training and I find the better engineers have some form of performance or music training in their backgrounds,” he said, adding that this new twist at the Hall “is about the convergence of creative skills, such as when kids create the programming for video games.”

So like Coleman and Washington, Harris is ready for Maryland Hall 2.0.

“Places like Maryland Hall,” he said, “provide a foundation for the community where people can learn these important skills, flourish and contribute to the local economy.”