Jody Al­bright: A quiet force in Md. arts

Baltimore Sun - - TRUMP TRANSITION - Cyn­thia Brower, Martha Dougherty, Rose­mary Fet­ter and Lisa Land

Jody Al­bright died last week. Af­ter the fu­neral, the four of us who had worked with her, got to­gether over cof­fee and told sto­ries about the important role she had played in pro­mot­ing the arts in Bal­ti­more and the state of Mary­land. We re­mem­bered her as an in­domitable per­son who was never afraid to take on a new chal­lenge.

In the mid 1960s, she headed the Bal­ti­more school sys­tem’s Art To The Schools pro­gram at the Bal­ti­more Mu­seum of Art. With a group of ded­i­cated do­cents she cre­ated a va­ri­ety of mu­seum tours for kids and a pro­gram that took small pieces of sculp­ture from the mu­seum col­lec­tion out to the schools. She worked for mayor then gover­nor Wil­liam Don­ald Schae­fer, and later for Gov. Par­ris N. Glen­den­ing. As the head of the Mayor’s Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee of Art and Cul­ture, she was a quiet but firm pres­ence be­hind the de­vel­op­ment of Artscape, which re­mains an important part of Bal­ti­more’s art scene. When the city ac­quired the Clois­ters in Bal­ti­more County, with its col­lec­tion of fur­ni­ture, old books, toys, cos­tumes and other in­ter­est­ing ar­ti­facts, she saw an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a chil­dren’s mu­seum, and it was the fore­run­ner of the present mu­seum down­town. With the Bal­ti­more Of­fice of Pro­mo­tion and the Arts she started the Bal­ti­more Book Fes­ti­val. She was in­stru­men­tal in found­ing School #33 Art Cen­ter, of­fer­ing com­mu­nity pro­grams as well as ex­hi­bi­tion and stu­dio space for artists in the Mid-At­lantic re­gion. She par­tic­i­pated in the ren­o­va­tion of hous­ing to serve as live-work spa­ces for artists.

As the of head of the Gover­nor’s Of­fice of Art and Cul­ture, she had the idea of stim­u­lat­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in ru­ral coun­ties — Al­legeny, Som­er­set and Har­ford — by ar­rang­ing for the Bal­ti­more Sym­phony Or­ches­tra to give a concert at Rocky Gap State Park, and by cre­at­ing a num­ber of coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­vals, which in­cluded top-name en­ter­tain­ers (in­clud­ing Lyle Lovett, the Judds and Garth Brooks) as well as crafts, dance and chil­dren’s art pro­grams. These were all big un­der­tak­ings, and we all worked at a furious pace. There was a very small bud­get, but Jody man­aged to in­no­vate, and to beg and bor­row con­tri­bu­tions and ser­vices from pub­lic agen­cies and from pri­vate firms and in­di­vid­u­als (even if it meant ruf­fling a few feath­ers in the process), and in the end, the events at­tracted thou­sands of peo­ple to ar­eas they had never vis­ited be­fore.

As li­ai­son for the gover­nor, Jody cre­ated the set­tings for a num­ber of important state functions. She ar­ranged a lun­cheon with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of an Asian ship­ping line in or­der to pro­mote the Port of Bal­ti­more. As mem­bers of her staff, we had to re­spond to un­usual re­quests: Af­ter the afore­men­tioned din­ner, the chair­man of the line asked to keep the nap­kins — used and not — be­cause they matched his com­pany’s col­ors. And when Jody ar­ranged a meet­ing at the Wal­ters Art Mu­seum with an important Arab del­e­ga­tion, we had to screen the an­tique nudes with dis­cretely placed pot­ted palms. At the Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Bal­ti­more Jody cre­ated an im­pres­sive set­ting for a meet­ing in which the states sur­round­ing the Ch­e­sa­peake signed an agree­ment to im­prove the health of the bay. When­the time came to re­place a bridge over the Sev­ern River, Jody or­ga­nized an in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion and a con­fer­ence on bridge de­sign that at­tracted em­i­nent de­sign­ers from across the coun­try and abroad. As a re­sult, to­day we have an el­e­gant bridge wor­thy of our state cap­i­tal. Some may re­mem­ber the fire that dev­as­tated artist stu­dios in Wood­berry some years ago. Jody joined with oth­ers to or­ga­nize a fundraiser at the Lord Bal­ti­more Ho­tel for artists whose stu­dios were lost in the fire, and for the fam­ily of the fire­fighter who died fight­ing the blaze.

All of these events, and there were many more, re­flected Jody’s cre­ativ­ity, drive, courage and im­pec­ca­ble taste, but she in­sisted on re­main­ing be­hind the scenes and let the events work their magic. We don’t know whether Jody would have wanted us to bring her achieve­ments to pub­lic no­tice, but as her col­leagues we feel peo­ple should know about them.

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