Cambridge Arts & Entertainment District celebrated

MD-Arts & Entertainment district celebrated_2x logos

Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
Brandon Hesson and Mike Starling hold examples of the new A&E branding artwork while Mary Calloway delivers the details.

CAMBRIDGE — The Economic Development Department in this city re-dedicated the Cambridge Arts & Entertainment District in a launch party on Feb. 18. Mary Calloway of the EDD hosted the meeting with the help of Cambridge Main Street’s Brandon Hesson. Attending were city officials, business owners and members of the Cambridge arts community.

The City of Cambridge was first designated as a Maryland Arts and Entertainment District by the State of Maryland in 2003, with the effort driven by a group of local artists, including Heather Rosato, Greg Vandervisa and Joy Staniforth, owner of Joie de Vivre Gallery at the time. Cambridge’s A&E district designation was renewed in 2013.

“When I opened Joie de Vivre Gallery in 2000 there was very little downtown; it was in fact a ghost town,” said Joy Staniforth at the reception. “Cambridge was not part of the State Main Street Program, and to be honest, State Representatives were very skeptical about awarding us the status of an Arts & Entertainment district. I believe we have attracted artists to our community because of A & E, and there are a few artists taking advantage of the tax advantage.”

The presentation, which took place at the new (and still unfinished!) entertainment venue at 447 Race St. in Cambridge, released for the first time promotion materials which included a rack card, new A&E logo materials including a new color version of the town logo, and “Made in Cambridge” stickers to brand local artwork.

Ms. Staniforth, who owns gallery space in Cambridge, says that she is benefiting from the real estate tax advantage on her properties. She also believes that Cambridge’s A&E designation helped convince the State of Maryland to accept Cambridge into the Main Street program, a downtown revitalization program started in Maryland in 1998.

The boundaries of the Cambridge A&E District extend from the northeast shores of Cambridge Creek and across the Maryland Avenue drawbridge, including the Sailwinds property and parts of the creek shoreline north to the Municipal Yacht Basin, west to just beyond High Street and south to include parts of Pine, Washington and Cedar streets.
Locating within an A&E district is a direct economic benefit to an artist or art venue. Properties used by qualifying artists, or as qualifying arts and entertainment venues, can be exempt from admissions and amusements tax, and can also be eligible for a property tax credit. New in 2014, an artist who creates work in any of the 22 A&E districts in Maryland, and sells their work in any of the A&E districts in the state, is eligible for a state and local income tax deduction on qualifying sales.

Application and qualification for these tax incentives are not available without attention to paperwork and accounting, but the rewards can be substantial. “It makes great financial sense,” says Cambridge mural artist Michael Rosato, quoted in a Cambridge A&E press release in 2014. “I have affordable space in a supportive, pro-art community, and all the work I create here is free of Maryland state income tax. It’s a fantastic deal.”

Mr. Rosato’s works include the Chesapeake-themed mural along Cambridge Creek outside The J.M. Clayton Company, and on the train car beside Powell Realty along the old railroad tracks by the creek.

State rules specify that the artist’s work must be created and sold within an A&E district, which causes some confusion in these days of long-distant sales, but artwork sold by internet, telephone or mail order is also eligible as long as it was shipped from within the A&E district.

The definition of an artist is also much more broadly drawn than the image of someone in a beret painting a canvas on the street. Qualifying art can include visual arts, written works, musical and dance composition, film and photography, clothing design and traditional and fine crafts.

The rules can be tricky. Written word authors should note that qualifying physical sales must be made within an A&E district, and do not apply to royalties derived from outside sales — as in royalties paid by book distributors and internet sales. All artists would be well advised to research exactly how their art would qualify for incentives within an A&E district.

At the Thursday night party, optimism was rampant among the crowd of artists and downtown enthusiasts who came to join the celebration.

“There are many exciting projects happening in Cambridge now, including musical venues,” said Ms. Staniforth, “and I believe NOW is the time that Cambridge will receive the benefits it is due. It appears that the City Economic Development Department is producing some interesting marketing tools and a new energy is emerging.”

“I’ve been here for 15 years,” said City Commissioner Frank Cooke, “and there’s been a dramatic improvement downtown. You think about all the restaurants that opened, and are going to open here. We didn’t have a brewery downtown … I think despite some challenges we’re making really good progress, and the A&E district is a cornerstone of that progress.”

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