Frederick-Gaithersburg-Rockville, MD ranks 10th in the nation on measurements of government support for the arts, with particular strength from state funding agencies.
The Frederick-Gaithersburg-Rockville, MD, Metro Division, which encompasses Montgomery County and Frederick County, exists within the greater Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area partially inside the Capital Beltway. While its arts and culture may benefit from the close proximity to Washington, DC, this community of just over 1 million stands on its own in terms of support and cultural offerings, including Silver Spring’s American Film Institute’s AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, Round House Theatre, and Maryland Youth Ballet, as well as several entertainment, musical, and ethnic festivals including the most notable, AFI DOCS and the Silver Spring Jazz Festival.
Over the last 20 years, the state of Maryland has encouraged the development of artistic and cultural centers in communities by designating Arts and Entertainment Districts (A&E Districts), of which Montgomery County is home to three: Silver Spring, Bethesda and Wheaton. Maryland’s A&E Districts help develop and promote community involvement, tourism, and revitalization through tax-related incentives, including tax credits for new construction or renovation that creates live-work space for artists, tax benefits for income derived from artistic work sold by qualifying residing artists, and a tax exemption for arts and entertainment enterprises as well as resident artists.
The Frederick A&E District is home to the Delaplaine Arts Center, Griffin Art Center, Weinberg Center for the Arts, the annual Frederick Festival of the Arts, and a flourishing community of independent artists.
For its innovative design and forward-thinking concept, Frederick’s outdoor amphitheater and public arts project, Sky Stage has won numerous awards, including a Coda Award, a competition for the top 100 international art and design entries. What was once a boarded-up pre-Revolutionary War building, damaged by fire, and missing an entire roof has now been temporarily transformed into a beautiful, communal space for free arts and culture. Framed by its historic stone walls, Sky Stage is an open-air theater surrounded by trees and centered by an other-worldly sculpture with ribbons of drought-resistant plants that twist and wind through a wooden lattice. Audiences of 140 people can come to enjoy drama, music, children’s story time, art classes, folklore, history, naturalists, and film. While the local community is invited to program the space, Frederick Arts Council is overseeing the day-to-day operations of the theater and is seeking to purchase the facility so that it can become a permanent and all-season performing arts venue.
This vibrant arts community is also hailed as one of the most diverse areas in the nation. According to a 2023 study, Rockville ranked eighth for most ethnically diverse cities in the U.S. Located just 15 miles outside of Washington, D.C., Rockville offers a plethora of arts experiences along the MD355 travel corridor. Many of its performing arts organizations benefit from subsidized storage facilities used for equipment and costumes. In addition, programs such as the city’s Art in Public Architecture and Art in Public Places allocates funds for developing and maintaining the city’s whopping 52 public art pieces, along with new works underway. As part of the City's Art in Private Development ordinance, most private development projects within the city are required to include an expenditure for a publicly accessible art project, either a permanent visual art piece, temporary art presentations, monetary contribution, provision of art space and/or infrastructure.
Frederick-Gaithersburg-Rockville, MD Metro Division stands proudly as a beacon of artistic vibrancy and creativity and its spot among the top 40 arts-vibrant communities of 2022 is well earned. From its rich historical heritage to its thriving performing arts spaces, this area has fostered an environment where creativity flourishes. The city’s dedication to preserving its cultural legacy, promoting artistic expression, and developing the infrastructure necessary for artists to live and work allows local talents to pursue their passions and contribute to the ever-evolving arts landscape.
Thank you to Andrew Lett of City of Rockville for their thoughtful contributions to the making of this article.
ABOUT THE ARTS VIBRANCY INDEX
The Arts Vibrancy Index examines the level of supply, demand, and government support of the arts in more than 900 communities across the country. Accompanied by an interactive Arts Vibrancy Map that reveals the arts-vibrancy score of every county in the U.S., the Index lists, in alphabetical order, the 20 most arts-vibrant large cities, the 10 most arts-vibrant medium cities, and the 10 most arts-vibrant small cities. In this year’s Index, the first since 2020, four communities debut on the lists, and an additional five return after an absence of at least three years.