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Sandy Spring Museum’s proposed Master Plan aims to bring communities together

by Audrey Partington

Contributing Writer

While many public institutions shuttered during the pandemic, Sandy Spring Museum continued to explore how best to use its indoor and outdoor spaces to build community through the cultural arts.

The result is an amended Master Plan, which has been submitted to the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission.

“The Master Plans for both Ashton and Sandy Spring identified the need for community-accessible green areas to serve as gathering spaces,” said Allison Weiss, Sandy Spring Museum’s executive director. “We have that space but it has been underutilized.”


A multi-faceted plan


The new Master Plan reflects the museum’s mission of preserving and sharing the area’s cultural heritage by calling for the creation of a multipurpose folklife hub, additional artists’ studios, an amphitheater for public performances, green gathering spaces, picnic areas, a Commons, overlook perch, walking trails with space for large outdoor sculptures, and a sculpture patio.

The site plan also provides for improved landscaping visibility of the museum from Olney-Sandy Spring Road (Route 108), a more prominent location for the Visitors’ Desk, the removal of several unused structures on the grounds to improve foot traffic flow, and additional parking for visitors.

Prepared by the members of the Sandy Spring Museum Buildings and Grounds Committee, the plan reflects a 10-year vision and is anticipated to be constructed in several phases over a period of five or more years. Each element of the plan is designed to be a separate project so that changes or modifications would not affect future phases of the plan.


Costs and fundraising


The overall cost of approvals, design, permitting and construction is anticipated to be in the $8 million to $10 million range. Fundraising (grants, public appeals) will be done for individual elements of the plan.

To date, the first phase of the project – the Folklife Hub – has been approved for $500,000 in congressional funding as part of the Fiscal Year Appropriations Bill, signed into law by President Biden on Dec. 29. U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) championed the project, along with Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland’s 8th congressional district.

The project has also been approved for $250,00 in state funding.


Phase One: Folklife Hub


The creation of a Folklife Hub is a top priority of the museum’s amended site plan.

In recent years, Sandy Spring Museum has expanded its mission to reflect the county’s diverse cultural heritage and traditions, both past and present. The museum has been highlighting those traditions by hosting musical performances, art displays, food tastings and storytelling.

“We have been hosting diverse artists-in-residence since 2013 and we have been doing it successfully,” said Weiss. “We are also the only local institution specifically supporting folk and traditional artists.”

Sandy Spring Museum’s efforts to celebrate and support the cultural arts and folk artists have not gone unnoticed. In 2019, the museum was designated a Regional Folklife Center for Montgomery County by the Maryland State Arts Council. The museum is one of only eight such centers in the state. The designation allows the museum to receive grants administered by Maryland Traditions.

In 2020, Folklife Specialist Doug Peach was hired to help with the effort.

“Montgomery County is the most diverse county in the state of Maryland,” said Peach. “Approximately 33 percent of the county’s residents come from outside the country, bringing with them their rich cultural traditions.”

The former state folklorist for his home state of South Carolina, Peach says the museum’s folklife program is three-fold: “to celebrate traditional arts and artists, educate the community about traditional arts, and support the county’s folklife artists by providing studio space, and assistance in grant writing.”

The museum also provides access to equipment in its Digital Folklife Lab to allow artists to create digital content of the cultural materials.

The construction of a Folklife Hub is intended to expand the museum’s visibility as the county’s Regional Folklife Center, meet the space demands of folk artists, and increase the level of cultural activities on its site.

The 1,200-square-foot multipurpose space will be used by regional folk artists for rehearsal, classes, meetings and recording digital programming. The Hub will provide a space for artists to gain technical assistance and networking opportunities.

The space will be designed to be accessible without going through the main entrance so that it can be used during hours when the museum is closed. It will include indoor as well as outdoor performance space, a covered porch, terraced lawn seating and restrooms.

According to Weiss, broadening the institution’s mission to include the county’s cultural arts and artists brings people together and helps sustain the museum by reaching new audiences.

“We have been making this transition for a while,” said Weiss. “Now we’re working toward owning it.”

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