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Working at Play

From plays to sculptures, what’s the good of art in our communities

The Library of Congress list of books that shaped America didn’t include Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class among its 88. But it’s one of the big books that did some molding of my mind. I’ve never been sure, however, that the crotchety social critic was right in putting art on his list of conspicuous consumptions you indulge only when you’ve worked successfully enough not to have to work.
    This heady speculation is the brainchild of this issue of Bay Weekly, with art all over its pages. I’ve got to confess that it’s also got a bit to do with some leisure I indulged on a brief vacation to Cape Cod.
    Vacation destinations like Annapolis and Cape Cod are arty places. It seemed to me like every town on the Cape — at least 15 of them — has a community theater staging a summer season.
    Art galleries are as common as vacation rentals, and some towns, like Truro, have art centers as well, with art workshops that draw more tourists with leisure time to paint salt marshes, lighthouses and quaint villages. Add to that the visiting artists, like recent Annapolitan Mary Arthur, who bring their own students to the Cape, and you’ve got a booming art economy.
    Sound familiar?
    Annapolis is just as arty. Chesapeake Country in general is arty; the distribution just isn’t as intense. We’re a region that works at art.
    Galleries in our capital city are as common as bed and breakfasts, maybe commoner. They’ve grown throughout the region, too.
    We’ve got arts center in Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, Annmarie Garden in Solmons and Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park with the North Beach Arts Center in planning. Museums and historical societies thrive not only in Annapolis but also in most of our communities and villages.
    Theatrical productions are so abundant this summer — supposedly the down season for all but outdoors productions — that Bay Weekly reviewers are working every weekend and the paper is full of their reviews and related theatrical stories.
    From New York, Infinity Theatre Company made its summer home in Annapolis. Huh?
    Colonial Players and 2nd Star Productions ran their regular seasons all the way through June.
    Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre is playing its usual schedule of three, with Avenue Q (reviewed this week) now playing and the roller skate musical Xanadu coming next month.
    Colonial Players is staging eight plays over the next two weeks in its one-act play festival.
    If plays, which run mostly Thursdays through Saturday evenings, don’t give you enough to do with your evenings, community outdoors concerts will fill out your calendar.
    Yes, Thorstein, we’ll consume much of that art in our leisure, even to being more likely to buy visual art, from paintings to pottery to jewelry and wearables, when we’re on holiday, for a week or an afternoon.
    In fact, all that art is one of the reasons tourists come to places like Chesapeake Country and Cape Cod. My point here is that art makes better — and richer — communities. It makes jobs for artists.
    Art makes jobs for managers and construction workers, too. Watch the installation of the more-or-less abstract sculpture Shoal — another subject of this week’s paper — and you’ll see that art makes work. In the hands-on sense, all artists are construction workers, making things. Some, sculptors for example, get dirtier hands than, say, musicians.
    While I’ve no doubt that art is work, I’m just as sure that art is play.
    Artists make things to engage our imaginations; to urge our minds into that zone of possibility where many of our really good ideas are born.
    Think of that when you zip around West Gate Circle in Annapolis and glimpse the poplar and oak bones of Shoal. It’s a work of play, which I could do with a lot more of.
    Enjoy your vacation — and your play time.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com