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 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 next month, conduct 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,” Mayor Dan Burris said.
A Maryland arts and entertainment designation could draw more visitors and bolster business. It could bring tax credits to 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. Places with current arts and entertainment districts include Annapolis, Salisbury, Silver Spring, Frostburg and Havre de Grace.
Leonardtown unsuccessfully applied for the designation in 2001. Some agree the town is better prepared now to make a viable bid.
Since 2001, 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 who chairs 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, he said.
Orlando is a bass guitarist with a hankering for the blues, and a 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 are alive and well in Leonardtown,” Orlando said.
Art is directly related to economics, said Carrie Patterson, who owns Yellow Door Art Studios and teaches art at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
She said 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,” Bardales said, 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.”