by Ashley Dehoyos
Someone once asked me what it was like being at the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA) and all I could say was that it was great. I was part of Light City and working towards being a part of Artscape, I was meeting new people and doing the work that was given to me. However, I’ll admit I struggled here at first.
Unlike most my fellow cohort, I didn’t have a specific project to take under my belt. I couldn’t figure out what the role of an Urban Arts Leadership Fellow was at BOPA, and how my position differentiated me from the other interns working here in various departments.
I wanted tasks that challenged me, that could provide a space for me to showcase my talents, possibly a spot to stay, but you see that’s not the way things function here at BOPA. What I’ve learned is that BOPA is kind of like a machine, not cold and shut off, but more like how each part of a machine is built for functionality. Each job, committee, project, staff member, and player makes a difference in how the larger organization operates— from the way it functions, to the way its seen and most off all the way it succeeds. My time and hands have been involved in not just one project but many projects on various levels.
Starting in February, a month out from the launch of Light City festival, I immediately hit the ground running. I needed to be debriefed and aware of what was going on in and outside of the office. So, I attended meetings and was introduced to key players, learned the process, the projects, and the plan.
My head was spinning from all the information, but looking back at all of these meetings, I realize that I witnessed the machine at its best. It’s true that you never realize just how much work goes into things until you see the results. Light City was massive –it was a conference, light festival, hosted concerts and events, promoted new ideas and brought people into the city from every different direction. This wouldn’t have happened so seamlessly unless each piece of the machine spoke to each other inside and outside of the organization. There is no “I” in team, and that’s a mantra that BOPA has taken to heart. It’s for sure an organization that requires an “All Hands on Deck,” attitude and if you don’t have it or aren’t willing to pitch in you’ll have a hard time working here.
For Light City, I was on the “whatever you need train.” I said yes to pretty much anything and everything to help out where I was needed. I was assigned to work on a project called Bright Light Youth Festival, a collection of free conference style workshops and program opportunities aimed to engage and inspire young people about social and creative innovation. I worked alongside the project coordinator, Symone Audain, to confirm performer’s information, prep contracts, and plan for the event. I even went to offsite storage to help pick out furniture, checked out catering menus for staff meals, and walked the footprint of Light City. During the event, I had the pleasure of acting as a guide during GirlTrek’s community walk in Charm City. As they cheered and shined positivity along the walk I couldn’t help but think of the impact that arts and culture has on the soul.
After Light City, my focus shifted to Artscape, where instead of working on youth programming and projects, I started working on the Artists’ Market team, led by Assistant Director of Cultural Affairs, Krista Green.
Letting me take the reins, I reached out to potential jurors, reviewed each application as well as built an internal review panel of staff members to showcase the top candidates who applied to participate in the Artists’ Market. It was really cool to get a first-hand look at what goods would be offered and also hear the staff’s input.
While everything was new to me, some of the artists had been applying on and off to Artscape for years. I learned the history involved in the Artists’ Market and gained a better perspective of artists’ goods that were being sold in the city.
After the review, I learned that I would be able to stay on short-term and work as the Artists’ Market Production Assistant for Artscape. (YAY!) I am excited to be able to further the work and make connections, as I’ll get the chance to interact with and meet the artists once their on site in July.
Now the real fun begins as we head into a planning phase to solidify locations based on needs and wants, factoring in who’s next to whom, and making sure we don’t over crowd the same style of goods in specific areas so each of our artists shines.
Multi-tasking is truly a skill needed at BOPA. I’ve learned that many of the positions here take on seasonal responsibilities but also work on several different projects all at once. Outside of Artscape, I am currently working on the Creative Baltimore Fund and let me tell you, It’s been an amazing experience to see the ins and outs of a grant process.
For those that don’t know, The Creative Baltimore Fund, is a grant program that is made possible through the support of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Baltimore City Council. Individual artists are invited to apply for the Mayor’s Individual Artist Award which provides project support for work that promotes public access and encourages arts and cultural programming in City. While, the General Operating Support Grant, awards funds to established arts or cultural organizations that benefit the public and make the city a more vibrant arts and cultural hub. With over 50 organization applicants and 20 different individual projects the grant program is both competitive and needed to continue the growth of the visual and performing art scene.
As my time here at BOPA comes to an end, I look back and acknowledge that it wasn’t about taking on a project to show what I could do, it was more about shadowing and learning from people who do great things. Yes, I did use my skills to make numerous projects happen but I think I’ve learned more about how to be a well-rounded arts administrator and colleague than anything else. I’ve been introduced to different management styles, I’ve gone to a bill hearing to advocate for the arts, I’ve learned more about programs like Submittable and Docusign, I’ve seen how grant and artist reviews work, and most of all how festivals are planned and promoted.
I think BOPA, like any organization, is always looking forward and thinking ahead of what’s next, but they are also learning with their staff and community. I am happy that they have taken an approach to offering workshops and community input because it will help them better serve the community. The community aspect and listing to those that they support, is just another part of the equation that makes the “machine” productive and great.
Working at BOPA is more than just a job; it’s more than just great, as I would mention to those who asked me how my fellowship was going. It’s a space that provides opportunity, one to do new and exciting programs, offer free events in a city that is constantly looking for creative outlets. When I started that hadn’t really hit me yet, but as I leave, I can only hope to take away the energy, the commitment, and the motivation housed here on the 10th floor at 10 E. Baltimore St.
Ashley Dehoyos was born and raised in Houston, Texas and currently resides in Baltimore. She is a MFA candidate in Curatorial Practices Candidate at Maryland Institute College of Art and holds a BFA in Photography with a minor in Art History from Sam Houston State University. Ms. Dehoyos recently served as a graduate curatorial intern at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, provided through ArtTable’s Diversity in Visual Arts Internship and the Meyerhoff Internship Fellowship Award. She has previously interned at the Houston Center for Photography. Ashley has a passion for art, community engagement and working with contemporary artists.