There is an undeniable aura of excitement, a welcoming vibe, and a sense of community throughout Leonardtown, Maryland. It is adorned with historic buildings, locally owned and operated shops, galleries, top-notch restaurants, and the waterfront Wharf Park. And it is all within walking distance to boot.  

Leonardtown Town Square Credit: Sal Icaza

Town Square is the epicenter of this vibrant, impressively diverse, family friendly scene. Locals and visitors come to experience its varied succulent food offerings and live musical performances.  It is rather quaint, yet lively.

Leonardtown Town Square Credit: Sal Icaza / Solomons Island Photography

Leonardtown is an eclectic, idyllic piece of Americana where traditional values and progressive ideals are embraced.

And the arts, specifically the St. Mary’s County Arts Council is the heart of Leonardtown’s moniker, “A most exceptional place!”

Nell Elder, Executive Director, St.Mary’s County Art Council Credit: Sal Icaza / Solomons Island Photography

“Having a collaborative partnership between the St. Mary’s County Arts Council [SMCAC] and the Leonardtown Arts and Entertainment District has been a win for both organizations in elevating their presence in the community.  Under the leadership of Nell Elder, as Executive Director of the SMCAC since 2011, the Arts Council has forged many such partnerships and become a powerful voice for the arts community and added many important community resources for all St. Mary’s County residents,” said Laschelle McKay, Town Administrator for the Town of Leonardtown. 

As McKay pointed out, Nell Elder is the Executive Director for the St. Mary’s County Arts Council (SMCAC) and has been a catalyst in Leonardtown’s revitalization through the arts.

When asked to share her thoughts on the SMCAC’s success, and on the Arts and Entertainment District’s success, Elder pointed to, “a terrific working relationship between the Town of Leonardtown, the County, the State, the St. Mary’s County Arts Council, and the Leonardtown Business Association, to name a few. Everyone is a partner when it comes to the arts.”

Credit: Sal Icaza / Solomons Island Photography

Intrigued, I inquired as to why the arts are so important, “Art brings us together to celebrate our expressions, and to strengthen, uplift, and connect our community.” Said, Elder.    

The upcoming Art Walk does exactly this. Taking center stage on the St. Mary’s County Arts Council program will be the ninth annual Art Walk to be held Friday, September 2, 2022.

It is jubilation, marking the ninth year in which Leonardtown was anointed as the first state-designated Arts and Entertainment district in Southern Maryland.  Galleries, shops, and restaurants throughout Leonardtown will be open late in celebration of this tradition.

The Importance of the St. Mary’s County Arts Council, and the Maryland State Arts Council

The St. Mary’s County Arts Council was established in 1984.  It was done with the support from the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC) and the State of Maryland to provide funding for community arts development programs throughout all of St. Mary’s County.  These programs, along with numerous others, are also supported by corporate and private donors, and through Arts Council Memberships.

It should be highlighted that Maryland State Arts Council and the St. Mary’s County Arts Council were there for the community in a meaningful way during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; they helped to subsidize struggling artists with basic needs such as rent or mortgage payments, utilities, medical bills, etc.

Today, the St. Mary’s County Arts Council continues with its mission of bringing people together.  It is estimated that approximately $50,000 is granted annually to local non-profit organizations and schools for art activities throughout St. Mary’s County. An annual scholarship program is available for high school seniors who are pursuing the arts at higher levels of education after graduation.  

The community seems to gravitate towards the St. Mary’s County Arts Council’s gallery and gift shop as the unofficial welcome center to downtown Leonardtown. There you can meet Wednesday Davis, whose smile and demeanor reverberate throughout the Town Square. “We have an open-door policy, and very much enjoy meeting people from our community, be it artists, local residents, tourists, anyone who would like to stop by and say hello!” said Davis, Outreach Coordinator for the St. Mary’s County Arts Council.

Wednesday Davis, Outreach Coordinator for the St. Mary’s County Arts Council. Credit: Sal Icaza / Solomons Island Photography

I encourage you to go experience Leonardtown.  Take the family and relish the walk. Support the community. Enjoy the live music and the incredible musicians. If you are a foodie, you’ll love it. Have a cup of joe or have a cold one. Support the local shops. Indulge in the arts, better yet, express yourself through art.  

Be sure to stop by the St. Mary’s County Arts Council. Nell, Wednesday, and Caitlin will be there to greet you.  I recommend that you start here: www.stmarysartscouncil.com

Wharf Park, Leonardtown. Credit: Sal Icaza / Solomons Island Photography

This article is dedicated to Tom Waring, an advocate for the arts, and Leonardtown pioneer. Those that knew Tom continue to smile in remembrance, especially after a quick glance at where Café de Artiste once stood.


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