Baltimore National Heritage Area Uses Increased State Funding to Develop Innovative Neighborhood Placemaking Grant Program

By Ennis Barbery Smith, Maryland Heritage Areas Program Assistant Administrator

In years past, the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) has provided up to $15,000 annually to each of the 13 Certified Heritage Areas across the state of Maryland for locally-administered “mini-grant” programs, but starting last year MHAA increased this funding level to $25,000 per heritage. Compared with the larger project grants available through MHAA, mini-grants allow Certified Heritage Areas to support smaller-scale projects, activities, and partners.

A map of Maryland’s 13 Certified Heritage Areas

This funding increase allowed the Baltimore National Heritage Area (BNHA) to design and launch the Neighborhood Placemaking Grant Program, which provides funding to help neighborhoods in the heritage area become visitor-ready and highlight the unique cultural heritage that each neighborhood has to offer. Eligible projects fall into three categories:

  • Navigate Your Neighborhood: Festivals, performances, re-enactments, and events that promote heritage tourism and attract visitors
  • Plan for Your Neighborhood: Planning and feasibility studies for capital projects, vacant lot development planning, and project evaluations
  • Green Your Neighborhood: Projects that promote neighborhood greening activities, environmental stewardship, cleanliness, beautification, and citizen community education

The overwhelming response that this grant program received has revealed a significant need for funding to support these types of projects in Baltimore City. While $25,000 was made available for the program from MHAA, BNHA received requests for funding that totaled over $80,000. The heritage area ended up pulling in additional funding from another source in order to award $27,945 total to seven important projects. Shauntee Daniels, Executive Director of BNHA underscored the importance of the Neighborhood Placemaking Grants, when she explained that “every neighborhood has a story.”

Community members celebrate one of Baltimore’s oldest neighborhoods at the Jonestown Festival, funded in part by a Neighborhood Placemaking Grant. Photo by Will Kirk, courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland and Baltimore National Heritage Area

Daniels emphasized that many of the neighborhoods’ stories are centered around immigration: “All of these little enclaves of neighborhoods were brought together and built by people who came here as cultural groups.” She described how the area around the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore, known as Jonestown, is a good example of a neighborhood with an engaging story to tell, but – all-too-often – museum visitors pass right through the neighborhood itself. The Jewish Museum received a Neighborhood Placemaking Grant to help fund the annual Jonestown Festival in 2019, highlighting the neighborhood’s engaging history.

Another view of visitors enjoying the Jonestown Festival, funded in part by a Neighborhood Placemaking Grant. Photo by Will Kirk, courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland and Baltimore National Heritage Area

The China Town Collective also received one of the inaugural Neighborhood Placemaking Grants to support their second-ever “Charm City Night Market.”  Steph Hsu of the Collective said, “The Charm City Night Market celebrates the cultural exchange of Asian Americans in Baltimore City…. Thanks to the funding from the Neighborhood Placemaking Grant we were able to expand our possibilities with signage, wayfinding, and lighting, which will include lanterns designed by a local entrepreneur.”

In addition to creating opportunities for visitors, the Neighborhood Placemaking Grants have encouraged collaborations within and between communities across the heritage area. Kim Lane, Executive Director of Pigtown Main Street in Baltimore, offered this insight: “We shared it [the Neighborhood Placemaking Grant opportunity] with our partners in our area, which resulted in conversations that lead to a group of community leaders from Pigtown Main Street, Pigtown, Barre Circle, Ridgely’s Delight and Camden Carroll forming a committee to plan a heritage walk.” 

This newly rebranded and reimagined mini-grant program builds on BNHA’s “Heritage Neighborhoods” goal, which calls on the heritage area to “assist visitor friendly neighborhoods offering heritage experiences” and specifically mentions “emerging heritage neighborhoods,” tasking BNHA with meeting neighborhoods where they are and supporting them in the early stages of becoming visitor-ready.

BNHA is currently accepting applications for this year’s round of Neighborhood Placemaking Grants. The deadline to apply is December 9. Read more about this opportunity on their website.