During the 12 years that Al Maitland has been executive director of the Prince George's Arts Council, he's weathered his share of storms.
In the early 1990s, an economic recession threatened the nonprofit agency's funding, eventually slicing its budget in half. Similar monetary woes forced county art treasures such as the Prince George's Opera to fold, and the Prince George's Philharmonic nearly met the same fate.
Today, however, Maitland has much to smile about.
Plans are underway to create an arts district, a government-designated aggregation of arts organizations and facilities, near the arts council's offices in Hyattsville. Nearly a half-dozen new venues have been established throughout the county for art education programs.
And, after more than a decade of dreaming, planning and political jockeying, the crown jewel of Prince George's County arts--the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Maryland--is scheduled to be completed within a few months.
The council also is undergoing a rebirth of sorts. Tomorrow, the arts council hosts the grand opening of its offices in the Prince George's Metro Center office park in Hyattsville. The celebration will include a poetry slam, live music and the opening of an exhibit by local folk artist Sy Mohr.
"Prince George's County is on the brink of a renaissance of world arts and oral cultural traditions," Maitland said, adding this prediction: "The unity of diverse artists, arts organizations and world arts traditions will identify Prince George's County as the metro world arts center in the coming years."
The arts council's move resulted from a new partnership with Prince George's developer Herschel Blumberg called "Arts for Space, Space for Arts." Under the arrangement, the arts council will get 6,000 square feet of space, which will house a gallery, a concert venue and dance and visual arts studios. In exchange, the arts council will provide artistic and cultural programming for the community.
Other county arts administrators predict that recent developments will help the local arts scene flourish.
"It's very exciting to be working in the county at this time," said Barbara Funk, head of the arts and cultural heritage division of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and a board member for the arts council. "We are finally getting some quality development."
Since a Prince George's County Council resolution established the arts council in 1981, it had been housed in the commission's offices in Riverdale. Funk said she will miss the close interaction with the arts council that came from sharing office space, but she believes the move demonstrates Maitland's skill at forging relations between the arts and business communities.
"Making the move to a business office park is a very positive one," Funk continued. "Hopefully it will expand other opportunities for the business community and the arts to work together."
The Prince George's Arts Council, a nonprofit corporation, is the county's grant-making agency for the arts. This year, it awarded more than $200,000 in grants, about three-fourths of which went to arts groups and individual artists in awards ranging from $500 to $5,000. The remaining $50,000 went to art education programs.
The council's $400,000 operating budget comes from private funds and state and county block grants.
"I'm a huge fan of the council," said Prince George's County Council member Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood). "I see them not only as a way to bring beauty into our lives, but it is one of the leading ways to bring economic development to the county."
Shapiro also sees a Prince George's arts renaissance on the horizon. He has hosted two arts summits to explore the idea of establishing an arts district in a cluster of cities including Mount Rainier, North Brentwood, Brentwood and Hyattsville.
The designation would provide tax incentives for artists and owners of arts facilities that operate within the cluster. Shapiro also would like to duplicate the "Arts for Space, Space for Arts" program in the district.
In addition to the performing arts center at the University of Maryland, several other venues will host art education programs: the Bowie Regional Art Vision Association auditorium at Bowie High School, US Airways Arena and Redskins Stadium.
These new arts and art education venues make Maitland as nervous as he is anticipatory. He is bracing himself for the administrative challenges that those resources will pose.
"Who will perform there?" he asked. "Who will run it? Who will be involved? What is the cultural plan? How will the arts groups be involved? How can it best benefit all these talented groups?"
These are the kinds of questions the arts council was established to answer, the kind it has sought to answer for the past 18 years.
The Prince George's Arts Council's "Open House Celebration" is from 4 to 8 p.m. tomorrow and will feature Sam Turner's Afro Cuban Ensemble, Marc Antol's pan steel drums, the Shalom Steel Drum Ensemble, the Shalom African Dancers, the Fred Foss Youth Jazz Ensemble, the Positive Vibration Steel Band, a poetry slam and paintings by Sy Mohr. The Prince George's Arts Council is at 6525 Belcrest Rd., Suite 132, Hyattsville. Admission is free. Call 301-277-1402.
CAPTION: Al Maitland, director of the Prince George's Arts Council, examines works by Bowie artist Sy Mohr, which will be exhibited tomorrow during the grand opening of the council's offices and galleries at 6525 Belcrest Rd. in Hyattsville.