Jody Albright: A quiet force in Md. arts
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.