Alma Roberts gives artists a forum for their...


December 08, 1991|By Mary Corey

Alma Roberts gives artists a forum for their creativity

When Alma Roberts couldn't find an audience for her poetry, she created her own.

With three friends and a $400 loan, she created New Breezes, a cultural arts program for minority artists in the area.

"All the local presses were white writer-oriented. That was the basic problem I ran into," says the 43-year-old poet and playwright who lives in northwest Baltimore.

Despite eight years of tight budgets and sometimes testy performers, the organization has thrived -- sponsoring appearances by playwright Ntozake Shange, film premieres and children's workshops.

To Ms. Roberts, that's reason to rejoice. On Saturday at 8 p.m., New Breezes marks its eighth anniversary with a "Survival Celebration" at Maryland Art Place.

"But there's still a relative dearth of forums for minority artists," she says. "Our greatest accomplishment is having given emerging artists and established artists the opportunity to present their work."

Running the program, as well as holding down a full-time position as vice president of corporate development for Liberty Medical Center, leaves her little time for her own creative efforts. But if that means writing poetry at midnight, she's undaunted.

"It's a passion," she says, "not a sacrifice." When Evan Drachman plays the cello, people sometimes turn up in their housecoats and slippers to listen.

There's good reason why his audiences aren't the tuxedo-clad type, though: He makes most of his music in retirement communities.

A year ago, he formed Music Alert, a non-profit foundation that has given 100 concerts for senior citizens throughout Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

He got the idea for the program while studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where students practiced for recitals at retirement homes.

interest these audiences, he's cultivated an irreverent performing style, which includes personal anecdotes and endorsements of audience hum-alongs.

"My feeling is that concerts have become museumlike proceedings," says the 26-year-old Stevenson musician. "They're too long and impersonal, and musicians walk out in outfits only a head waiter or old diplomat would wear."

The grandson of renowned cellist Gregor Piatigorsky does acknowledge, however, that informal settings have their drawbacks. During one event, he played Bach in a cafeteria while workers cleaned dishes behind him.

"If you can concentrate through that," he says, "you can concentrate through anything."

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