Baltimore: An Artistic Charm Offensive.
Updated: Feb 28, 2022
Artifications provides a resource page for artists and travelers who wish to experience the dynamic Baltimore art scene.
The city of Baltimore itself is a large, sometimes clogged, historically significant city straddling a portion of the Chesapeake waterway. Visitors will find a well maintained city with some well known rougher areas; many of them depicted on HBO's "The Wire".
What we will be entering into is simply a city that loves the arts and is coming up with interesting and novel ways to keep these same artists in town, thereby fortifying its artistic position in the state. This does not always work as intended, and instead has left the city with less options for artists to display their works and communities working together to fill in the gaps presented to artists who want to make Baltimore their home.
How has its history influenced its current art scene?
Baltimore's European inspired history began when King Charles 1of England granted a charter to his cousin George Calvert, the First Lord of Baltimore in 1632. Its access to the fine harbor provided a suitable ground for a fledgling colony to develop.
Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) was founded in 1826, and has left its mark on Baltimore for years by attracting talented visual artists to the Charm City in order to become masters. Many times graduates stayed in town and contributed to this city's colorful legacy. Baltimore is host to numerous neighborhoods, each with their own economies. Baltimore has been actively injecting new life into local communities by creating "Arts and Entertainment Districts". Even if these districts were all highly efficient and buzzing with progress, the cities larger economic disparities would remain, and yet could equally benefit from arts as a "creative infusion".
Currently, Four "Arts and Entertainment Districts" within Baltimore City exist: Highlandtown, Bromo Tower, Station North, and Pennsylvania Avenue. Baltimore utilizes these districts to work with artists through their neighborhood associations. Our limited time allowed us to explore only a few neighborhoods and art districts, those were: The Highlandtown Art District, historic Mount Vernon Neighborhood, Fells Point, and the Inner Harbor.
Intro: Historic Mount Vernon Neighborhood.
Our exploration of the Historic Mount Vernon Neighborhood began with a planned trip through the Bromo Art District; so named after the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower at the southern most border of the art district.
The Bromo art district was founded in 2012, and has surprisingly few galleries given its large footprint. Without consulting any authority on the matter, one can only surmise that the "Ghost galleries" (galleries that exist on Google Maps, yet don't exist IRL) are either privater studios or defunct galleries that fell off.
Our search for an open gallery lead us outside of the Bromo Arts District, to a more picturesque part of town. Here, the views were reminiscent of early 20th century Black and white postcards depicting a skyline view. Here in the Mount Vernon Neighborhood, these views largely remain unchanged.
It was along one such treelined street we came upon our destination: Gallery Blue Door.
Intro: Gallery Blue Door
Gallery Director Scott Philip Goergens, explains that Gallery Blue Door came into being in response to the communities need for more gallery space. As an artist himself, Mr. Goergens sees more opportunities to show directly results in a more dynamic and energized neighborhood.
The gallery came about after one of their tenants left, creating a vacancy on the first floor of their building. One pop up exhibition later, Goergens and his husband were inspired to change the first floor into a proper gallery space utilizing the existing architectural aspects of the building. Its numerous rooms make for a wonderfully engaging space large enough to accommodate a variety of rotating exhibitions.
Intro: Highlandtown Art District
The second district we made our destination was the Highlandtown Art District. This well thought out, easy to follow neighborhood was sparse, colorful, and yet it was quite easy to see ones self raising a family here. The streets were clean and orderly, while well positioned street art blew past the open window of our automobile.
The heart of the The Highlandtown Art District lies across from the Charles S. Zannino Funeral Service, at the Highlandtown Gallery. Gallery owner Felicia Zannino-Baker knows this very well because she grew up looking at her would be gallery. Currently, the building hosts three independent art galleries, all owned and operated by MICA graduates. Mrs. Zannino- Baker was kind enough to provide some history of her gallery in the context of the Highlandtown Art District!
Intro: Highlandtown Gallery
The Highlandtown Gallery is a well lit facility with a downstairs gallery space showcasing a range of local talent. The scope of the participating artists range from basic to brilliant. This democratized curatorial approach to the gallery makes it a true community focused gallery. There is a real vein of "Artist gallery owner" energy that exists in this small network of galleries connected to Highlandtown Gallery. This denotes an authentic connection to the craft and community, as one can derive from the above interview.
One of these three facilities is the Night Owl Gallery, Here we meet the owner, Beth-Ann Wilson, whose story is super relatable.
Intro: Night Owl Gallery
The Night Owl Gallery is a fun little space that stretches out on to the sidewalk creating an almost outdoor patio vibe. Gallery owner Beth-Ann Wilson graduated from MICA herself a number of years ago, but couldn't shake the allure of Baltimore and its creativity to strike a return to her roots on Long Island. To her credit, her story of perseverance explains much about the neighborhood and its artistic legacy.
Intro: Inner Harbor / Fells Point
Our last stop on the Baltimore culture train was the Inner Harbor and Fells point. These two locations are located on the water, and are the oldest sections of the city. The inner harbor is a beacon to new construction. There is not one iota reminiscent of the Baltimore Harbor of old, except for the fake galleons and pirate ships that dot the water.
Intro: The American Visionary Art Museum
The American Visionary Art Museum is undoubtably one of Baltimores primary destinations for contemporary art. It walls contain so many examples of fascinating pieces of work. The stories behind each of these artists is equally compelling. The opportunity to meet with Gage Branda was fantastic, because it provided a look into the work that goes on behind the scenes. The entire interview is available via podcast, available right here. The video with Gage focuses on the evolution of the Inner Harbor over time, and how the AVAM has contributed to its revitalization.
Baltimore is a city of creativity, where artists have had a hand in its development. Whether that is by working together to purchase buildings in depressed areas, or working with neighborhood communities and Non Profits to reenergize districts with art, its a busy buzzy city! A sense of creativity is everywhere, and all communities contribute locally to making it work.
There is a thick vein of entrepreneurship that is fueled by the engaging crop of artists that complete their commitments at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and routinely invest in creating short-lived galleries. This is fantastic and exasperating; fantastic because it makes for an ever changing art scene, filled with passion and creative vigor, but exasperating for the large number of non-functioning galleries found on Google Maps.