The Somerset County Arts Council originated in 1969 as the Cultural Affairs Council through the auspices of the National Humanities Series, presented by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. A local committee of county residents served as a planning agency for the quarterly visits from the National Humanities Series, headed by Cathy Jones (69-71), Frances Grant (71-72) and Philip Morris (72-73).
When the funding for the series was terminated in 1972, Chairman Philip Morris, turned to an ecumenical group called the Princess Anne Laymen Society (PALS) for which he was serving as the representative from the Princess Anne Ministerial Association, and formed the Somerset County Humanities Council. During the next couple of years, the group was supported by PALS and the Special Affairs Committee at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and presented many cultural events at the University.
In 1975, the group met with the Somerset County Commissioners and were authorized to form an agency which would provide a forum for these cultural groups, offer support and promotion of art programs, and give a coordinated approach to the cultural affairs in Somerset County.
Subsequently, in 1976, the organization was incorporated as a not for profit corporation in the State of Maryland under the name of the Somerset County Council on the Arts. The stimulus was the need for a legal entity which would act as a conduit to Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC) funds.
From that time until 1986, the organization functioned primarily as a sub granting authority for the MSAC's Community Art Development (CAD) funds which were granted to eligible organizations within the bounds of Somerset County. Highlights of those years included a performance by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Sergiu Commissiona in 1980 and a theater presentation written and presented by Marci Bryant in 1986.
In 1988, the Arts Council was given the opportunity, through the efforts of the City of Crisfield, to accept the old Arcade Theater on Main Street from its owner. The Arts Council was in the process of getting its IRS not for profit (501c (3)) application reinstated and couldn't accept the donation, however the City of Crisfield accepted it for the Arts Council. The goal was to renovate the building and turn it into a Center for the Arts. A feasibility study and foundation were formed to oversee the project and raise the necessary funds. The Center was subsequently named the Lem and Steve Ward Center for the Arts.
During that period of time, the Arts Council opened its 1st office located in the Old Customs House (Post Office) and were able to centralize its efforts, to coordinate activities, provide support for other organizations, cultural events, and exhibit space. The 1st theater group was formed, initially named "County Caper Theater Group", and was later changed to "The Somerset Players", opening with a performance of Everybody Loves Opal.
In 1990, the Arts Council initiated the 1st Soft Shells and Jazz Festival, focusing on Main Street Crisfield. Local talent and Len Gray's Orchestra were the headliners and a Soft Shell Ball was held on the City Dock featuring Artie Shaw's Orchestra.
After receiving the IRS determination of the Council's not for profit tax exempt status, the name was changed to the Somerset County Arts Council. During the next 3 years work continued on the Lem and Steve Ward Center for the Arts project. In 1993 all plans for the renovation of the Arcade Theater building were terminated. Although the project had been greeted with much enthusiasm, it became apparent it would cost millions of dollars to renovate and would not be feasible for the Arts Council to continue the project. It was then donated to the City of Crisfield and has since been torn down.
In 1994, the Arts Council purchased their current building and began renovations. After months of work, it was formally opened in May 1994 with an exhibit of art work of the late Kirk Sterling. From then until present, the Arts Council has grown, featuring art, crafts, and cultural exhibits, children's activities, workshops and classes for both adults and children, sponsored performances and exhibits from national, regional and local artists and craftsmen, and sponsors the Somerset Strawberry Festival held the 2nd weekend in May.