Ambitious effort to showcase city, Russian culture

Festival: Local arts organizations plan to stage an event tailored to put Baltimore under a national spotlight.

March 20, 2002|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

Baltimore cultural organizations large and small have taken the wraps off plans for a citywide festival next winter celebrating Russian arts of all sorts - music, dance, painting, theater and film. There may even be borscht.

Pegged to the 300th anniversary of the city considered Russia's cultural capital, Vivat! St. Petersburg represents an unprecedented cooperative effort by Baltimore's arts organizations to stage an event tailored to put the city under a national spotlight.

"We need to realize we are major league, we can play in the major leagues," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

Armstrong said he anticipates the festival generating about $52 million in earnings for hotels, restaurants and other businesses, or about the equivalent of five or six good conventions. In the best of times, he said, the city accommodates no more than three conventions in three weeks during the end of February and early March. At the Lyric Opera House yesterday afternoon, Mayor Martin O'Malley, directors of city arts organizations and a representative of the Russian ambassador to the United States presented details of the festival to run between Feb. 13 and March 2 next year.

"You're not going to believe what we have in store for Baltimore," said Joan N. Davidson, festival executive director.

Much of the schedule is still being arranged, but plans now call for more than a dozen events each day of the festival, including standing museum and gallery exhibitions.

A few program highlights:

BSO performances of works by Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff

Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Baltimore Opera Company

Walters Art Museum exhibition of the early Russian avant-garde and Faberge Workshops animals

Art of the Ballets Russes at the Baltimore Museum of Art, featuring costume designs by modern masters such as Matisse and Picasso

A screening of Sergei Eisenstein's October at a theater to be named

Anne Mannix, spokeswoman for the BMA, said festival organizers have been talking with the Maryland Restaurant Association about having their Baltimore members add Russian fare to their menus during Vivat.

O'Malley called the festival a "unique opportunity to showcase" the city. "Some cities have done a better job of promoting" themselves than Baltimore, but none can boast greater cultural abundance, said O'Malley.

Michael Harrison, general director of the Baltimore Opera Company, said the anticipated drawing power of the festival will allow arts organizations to take risks they otherwise might not. In its regular program schedule, said Harrison, the Opera Company would probably not present Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

"The festival provides an opportunity to explore more avant-garde work," said Harrison, "to inform, educate about lesser known and sometimes more challenging work."

BSO conductor Yuri Temirkanov, who initiated the project, could not attend yesterday's presentation, as he was summoned to Moscow on short notice by President Vladimir V. Putin, apparently for a discussion of cultural matters, said BSO president John Gidwitz. Temirkanov has been advocating more attention to cultivating Russia's cultural resources.

Informal discussions of a Russian arts festival in Baltimore began in 1999, when the subject was raised by Temirkanov, who is also conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Temirkanov envisioned an event similar to the city cultural festivals that have been held in St. Petersburg the past few years.

As conversations went on, the scope of the project expanded. Davidson has said that the city's five major cultural organizations - the BSO, Baltimore Opera Company, Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters and Center Stage - have cooperated on smaller events in the past, but never anything like this. The five are the chief organizers of the event, along with the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. Thirty-four smaller arts organizations are also taking part.

The festival is supported by seven chief corporate sponsors: T. Rowe Price, Rouse Co., KPMG International, First Union Bank, Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust Co., Sylvan Learning Systems and Whiting-Turner Contracting.

Davidson said the program budget for the five principal arts organizations is about $6 million. The festival expects to spend up to $900,000 for advertising and marketing, said Davidson, with about two-thirds devoted to drawing visitors from out of town.

Armstrong said organizers hope the event will draw visitors from outside the usual range of New York to Virginia.

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