Columbia, Maryland has grown since it first became a community in 1967. It is the second largest city in Maryland with a population over 100,000. It has always been a vital center for the arts from Howard Community College, to its famed Columbia Festival of the Arts. The heart of Columbia is the downtown area but unlike the ones in a large city. It has a mall to be sure, but it is also a place for parks, restaurants and, of course, Symphony Woods which includes the Merriweather Post Pavilion where internationally renowned artists perform. A new addition to these cultural icons is the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission (DCACC) under Executive Director, Ian Kennedy.
“The Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission is a not-for-profit community organization dedicated to enhancing the vibrancy of downtown Columbia, Maryland. We work to expand artistic and cultural activities in and around downtown Columbia and at Merriweather Post Pavilion, the world-class amphitheater in the heart of our community. “
DCACC started this summer producing “Stompin’ The Blues,” “an immersive musical and arts experience that harmonizes multiple American musical and artistic genres with blues’ expression of optimism in the midst of adversity.” It began, this summer, in many wonderful spots around downtown Columbia. Using “The Blues,” DCACC hopes to bring back some optimism as we are all still are trying to cope with the pandemic. They want to accomplish this by blending genres to erase divisions in the community for all generations.
“Coming out of such a difficult and solitary period, we are seeing that people have an increased appetite for shared experiences, live art and, most importantly fun,” said Ian Kennedy, Executive Director of DCACC. “Art, especially music, has the power to heal, entertain and unite across all divisions. With “Stompin’ The Blues,” we are creating multi-genre experiences that immerse and turn observers into participants, and strangers into friends, while showcasing the incredible performing arts scene in Downtown Columbia’s Merriweather District.”
“As we considered this year’s productions, I kept coming back to the themes of transforming and overcoming. Blues is the perfect depiction of these themes. It is an art form that sounds sad yet makes you feel good because of the hope and connection that comes out of tragedy,” said Darin Atwater, Artistic Director of DCACC and founder of Soulful Symphony. “The idea of stomping the blues speaks to both reemerging after tragedy with renewed optimism and reimagining the way we experience art and music. Through these events we want people to embrace this optimism by appreciating dance, music and film in new immersive ways where they are participants vs. spectators. Simply put, the world has changed, and the way we experience art should change too.”
Nationally respected Darin Atwater will be the curator, and it will be produced by DCACC in partnership with featured sponsor The Howard Hughes Corporation, “Stompin’ The Blues” has one more event this year, but they will continue with the program in 2022.
Part I. “By Dancing at Color Burst Park”
You can still catch “MamboCombo” a combo that performs Latin Music, on September 21, 2021 at 6:00 pm at Color Burst Park, and “JAMM Session at Color Burst Park” with the premium cover band of the same name specializing in R&B, pop and party classics, on Wednesday, September 29, 2021 from 6:00 pm. Color Burst Park is located at 6000 Merriweather Drive, Columbia, Maryland
Admission is Free, but you need to make a reservation.
Part II. Through An American in Paris at Merriweather Post will be held next year.
Part III. With A Soulful Sound Park in Symphony Woods will also be held next year.
I had a chance to ask Mr. Kennedy about himself, DCACC and “Stompin’ The Blues.”
Ian Kennedy is the Executive Director of the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, a non-profit community organization dedicated to enhancing the cultural significance of Merriweather Post Pavilion and fostering the growth of arts and culture in Columbia, Maryland. His involvement with Merriweather Post Pavilion dates back to 2003 when he co-founded a successful grassroots effort called “Save Merriweather” to oppose a plan to close and demolish the beloved venue. In the years since, Kennedy remained a strong advocate for the venue in a variety of roles.
Kennedy has a long-history of serving the Columbia and Howard County communities in a variety of capacities. Professionally, he was previously the Director of Communications for the Horizon Foundation, a nonprofit public health philanthropy dedicated to improving health and wellness in Howard County. Before that, Kennedy served as Deputy Chief of Staff to former Howard County Executive, Ken Ulman. He is active in several other community issues, as well.
Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
I moved to Columbia when I was in high school, and it is here that I really came into my own. Since then, I have had the pleasure of calling this special community my home, now living in Oakland Mills with my own family. Today, I serve as the Executive Director of the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission (DCACC), a nonprofit community organization dedicated to enhancing the vibrancy of Downtown Columbia by expanding artistic and cultural activities in and around this community, and at Merriweather Post Pavilion, specifically. This vision of creating an arts-centric community in Downtown Columbia has always been very important to me, and I am thrilled to see how the community and its partners have been able to make that dream a reality, especially with our programming in Merriweather District this year.
How do you think “Stompin’ the Blues” fits in with the concept of Columbia?
Our “Stompin’ the Blues” concert series at Color Burst Park in Merriweather District was inspired by the blues’ ability to reignite hope and optimism, which we’ve all needed coming out of a really hard season. “Stompin’ The Blues” aims to “stomp attendees’ blues” by fostering social connections through enhanced audience participation. The experience was also designed to blend genres of music and dance to highlight the need to collapse divisions along racial, religious, socio-economic, gender, and generational lines. That blending and sense of community with each other is what Columbia is all about. We are so happy to be able to showcase that spirit through a diverse set of concert experiences.
When do you think Part II and III will be held?
The last year has been tremendously challenging for so many of us. While the concert series has been an outstanding success, some elements of the full program have to be reworked to create the best experience for the community and artists alike. As we look to 2022, our team is working on an events program that will reflect the original vision for the full series. One component is a screening of the iconic film, “An American in Paris,” at Merriweather Post Pavilion complemented by a multi-piano, live performance of the film’s original score. Another is a concept called “Soulful Sound Park” which is a series of interactive performances by a 10-piece ensemble that will take place at The Chrysalis within Symphony Woods. The woods will be transformed with large-scale musical instruments, live original music and creative instrument crafting.
Will this become an annual event, and what other programs are anticipated from DCACC?
It’s hard to know what the future holds, but we’ve received incredibly positive feedback about this summer’s concert series, so we are hoping we can continue with that in years to come. We are thrilled with how things are coming together in Merriweather District, but we are also confident that we are just getting started, and we hope to build on this momentum year after year.
Why do you think the arts are important, not to just Columbia, but to people in general?
Over the last year and a half, we’ve all learned that people, myself included, need opportunities to connect with each other in genuine and authentic ways. That need for connection is universal. DCACC has heard and seen the opportunity to make those connections through the arts, by bringing people together, safely, with music, dance and culture. Having a meeting place in Columbia like Merriweather District, a neighborhood committed to fostering the arts, means that we can convene, create and connect as a community of artists and art lovers. The arts have always had a place here; Merriweather Post Pavilion is a testament to that, but now we are investing and supporting the arts on a whole new scale.
Since its founding, DCACC has worked with the community of Columbia, MD, and community developer, The Howard Hughes Corporation, to expand the arts offerings in the area through dynamic, accessible programming throughout the year. DCACC’s programs and world-class productions have helped Downtown Columbia, MD gain recognition as a cultural center and the “third city” in the Baltimore/Washington corridor.
To learn more about DCACC or “Stompin’ the Blues” go to their website.