Theater opening delayed again Financial woes vex Heritage Shadows' plans for showcase

December 17, 1998|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

Baltimore will have to wait a little longer for the opening of the Heritage Shadows of the Silver Screen Museum & Cinema, which has been beset with financial difficulties since founder Michael Johnson started the project nearly a year ago.

The museum and theater, which will showcase African-American films and movie memorabilia, was scheduled to open at 205 W. North Ave. as early as October.

Most recently, it was scheduled to open Feb. 5 with a Dorothy Dandridge exhibit, screenings of "Porgy and Bess" and a visit from Sidney Poitier, who will be receiving a lifetime achievement award.

"It doesn't look good," says Michael Johnson, founder of the museum, who says it will open in late March. "We have to sit down, reassess."

Johnson and museum representative Carmen Jones partially blame the delay on the museum's latest financial setback: a series of early December benefit concerts gone wrong.

Johnson and Jones say local independent producer Arthur Woodard, who offered his services free, orally guaranteed the museum a minimum of $2,000 in proceeds. The concerts, featuring singer/poet Gil Scott-Heron, were advertised as benefits for the museum.

Johnson says that he hasn't seen any money from the four concerts held at the new museum site and that Woodard has ducked meetings and refused to return phone calls.

The museum is stuck with the power bill, Johnson says, and spent nearly $700 in a rush to get the venue in shape for the concerts. "As bluntly as it's put, we've been ripped off," Johnson says.

Woodard, who says he didn't guarantee a donation, denies the museum's claims, stating that Johnson refuses to meet with Woodard and the board.

"I'm here. I'm available for any meeting that needs to be set up," Woodard says.

Woodard would not reveal how much money the concert generated or what his expenses were. He says he needs to present that information to the board of the museum before releasing the figures to the public.

Four performances took place at the new site, and tickets were $25 each. Woodard would not say how many tickets were sold, though he guesses attendance was as low as 60 on one night. Johnson, meanwhile, says the concerts were attended by nearly 300 people a night.

Johnson says he's through trying to get in touch with Woodard.

"It's in the lawyer's and collection agency's hands now," Johnson says.

BTC "What hurts in the long run is this was done through Heritage, and it makes us look bad," says the museum's Jones. "I'm sure we have people who are looking at us as shady, and that's not the case."

Johnson says he's put $7,000 of his money into the museum and that it needs about $67,000 more to complete the theater and the second-floor exhibition hall. Heritage has been developing proposals for grants, and Coleman Contractors and volunteers have been donating their time.

The museum has held several fund-raisers, including an August phone-athon, which raised about $900, and benefit film screenings at the Baltimore Museum of Art, which have raised about $1,000. A recent Christmas tree sale brought in about $700.

In the future, the museum expects to make money from !c screenings of "Porgy and Bess," and the Heritage will be bringing Ladysmith Black Mambazo to Baltimore on Feb. 14.

The Heritage project began when Johnson's Heritage Playhouse Theater on 25th street closed in late 1997. The planned museum on North Avenue is in what used to be the Parkway Theater.

Pub Date: 12/17/98

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