'The arts come alive' Metamorphosis: The Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts has evolved from the former Annapolis High School. Opened in 1979, it is the only center in the state that houses all the arts.

April 06, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

It's the splat of clay on hard wooden tables. The tapping of shoes on a floor. The smell of acrylic paint seeping from beneath studio doors and the paintings that hang on every wall.

It is Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, housed in a redbrick building nestled between quaint pastel homes in Annapolis. Sculpture and dance, music and painting blossom in classrooms where high school students once studied algebra and biology, English and history.

"It's a place where the arts come alive," said Ellen O. Moyer, an Annapolis alderwoman who was one of Maryland Hall's founding members. "It's where all five senses have the opportunity to be touched in a new and special way."

Frederick and Easton have arts centers, but the Annapolis center is the only one in Maryland that houses all the arts under one roof.

Financed by the county and the Annapolis Fine Arts Foundation, Maryland Hall opened in 1979 in what used to be Annapolis High School.

Quirky remnants of the high school survive in the building. A sign at the entrance asks visitors to "Please report to the office." Wooden bathroom doors are marked "Girls" and "Boys." Cork bulletin boards hang from dingy, yellow brick walls.

But the metamorphosis from high school to arts center continues. The old locker rooms soon will be dressing rooms and a greenroom for performers. The General Assembly is expected to approve a $250,000 bond to pay for air-conditioning in the concert hall, and there are plans to remodel the large gymnasium into a black box theater for more intimate performances.

A pungent odor of alcohol and varnish permeates a cluttered basement hallway. In a room full of easels and half-finished canvases, Martha Griffin, 45, sits at a paint-splattered table, brushing a red liquid onto an image etched into a metal plate that will soon be used to create a print.

Ms. Griffin drives about 140 miles round trip from her home in Seaford, Del., to Annapolis every Thursday to teach a night class and create prints in the etching co-op.

"This is such a unique setup here," said Ms. Griffin, a part-time clerk in an emergency room who has taken classes at the school for about eight years. "Artistically, Seaford is a pretty dull area. I couldn't find an affordable place to work anywhere, so people in this state are so very, very fortunate to have Maryland Hall."

The school boasts three art galleries, a cafe, concert hall, several artists-in-residence studios and co-ops for artists looking for affordable work space to hone their craft and share supplies. Drawing-painting, sculpture and etching co-ops are available, and a photography co-op is in the works.

The hall, which costs about $800,000 a year to run, is home to the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Theatre of Annapolis, and choral and opera companies. A branch of the Peabody Preparatory conducts classes and performs there.

About 75 percent of the school's operating budget comes from ticket sales and fees charged for performance hall rentals. The rest comes from grants, said Theresa G. Strobel, the hall's director of public relations.

Judging from enrollment, Maryland Hall is flourishing. Enrollment has doubled in the past six years to more than 4,000, Ms. Strobel said.

The hall offers a wide range of courses, but dance classes continue to attract the most interest -- more than 2,000 students enrolled last year. Visual arts classes are the second most

popular, with 1,266 students.

A group of smiling parents can be found with their noses pressed against a door window as nine girls and a boy in tights and ballet slippers leap across the room like faltering baby antelopes. Under the tutelage of Anmarie Touloumis, the youngsters flit and fly across the room with arms waving as they pretend to be snowflakes.

At the end of the dance, the children rush their teacher with open arms to hug her tightly. The class is one of nine taught by Ms. Touloumis, a 23-year-old soloist with the Annapolis Ballet Company. For her, the slot at Maryland Hall was "a great opportunity straight out of college."

Her friend and colleague, Luis Rolando Torres, couldn't agree more.

Mr. Torres is a tall, thin dancer who started taking ballet lessons ,, four years ago in his native Puerto Rico and later moved to the United States to study dance. He signed his first contract with the Annapolis Ballet a year ago.

"It's hard for someone so young to find a company willing to take us on," said Mr. Torres, 20, who has been with the company for one season and is recovering from a strained ankle.

"As an artist, I didn't have that opportunity to study dance where I was growing up because there wasn't this type of facility where I lived. Here, I've danced in the 'Nutcracker.' "

Despite a heavy, white cast weighing down his right leg, Mr. Torres limped from classroom to classroom, watching as his colleagues taught classes and practiced. Eager to return to dancing, he settles for wandering the halls.

"For me," he said, "all my relatives are still in Puerto Rico. This place is my family, my home, totally."

Pub Date: 4/06/96

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