City area supplies new window to art

Exhibit: Panels masking a boarded-up school are one attraction at a celebration in the growing Station North district.

February 13, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

In the heart of Baltimore's year-old arts district near Pennsylvania Station, a shuttered city elementary school is going from drab to dressed up for tomorrow's daylong sidewalk festival.

Art student Michele Clark, one of those chosen for the public art project, applied a rectangle of fabric festooned with pastel colors to a piece of plywood boarding up a window of the former Mildred Monroe Elementary School in the 1600 block of Guilford Ave.

Clark, 21, a senior at Maryland Institute College of Art, said the design she created, reminiscent of her native Georgia, was a deliberate counterpart to February's chilly skies. "There are enough things that are gray," she said.

William Downs, 30, working alongside Clark this week, said the urban outdoors was the perfect gallery for his drawings of a roller coaster.

"I'm inspired by the environment and life in context," he said. "These are human ups and downs."

Fabrics pasted on the boards covering the windows and doors of the shuttered school - all with individually designed patterns - are the unifying elements in the "Building Alteration" project. The exhibit is part of the second annual Gotta Have Art celebration meant to showcase Station North, designated a year ago as the city's first arts district. Collaborating the artists' works was an endeavor that all involved seemed to enjoy.

After a year, the arts district is beginning to take hold, said Gary Kachadourian, the visual arts coordinator for Baltimore's Office of Promotion and the Arts. The state-funded program, which aims to revitalize a run-down section of the city, offers tax incentives to artists, actors, musicians and gallery owners who live or work within the district. Baltimore recently added another district to the state program, anchored by the new performing arts center in Highlandtown.

The closed elementary school is far from the only shuttered structure in Station North. About one in four housing units is vacant in the 100-acre area, bounded by Pennsylvania Station on the south, Howard Street on the west, 20th Street on the north and Greenmount Avenue on the east.

The area was chosen because it contains clusters of artistic activity and entertainment, such as the Everyman Theatre next to the Charles Theater, and its proximity to MICA.

Kachadourian believes the program's results can be seen and measured, even if it's not yet Baltimore's answer to Greenwich Village.

"It's going exceptionally well, seeding this grassroots development," he said.

Kirby Fowler, a lawyer and a former city official who spearheaded the initiative, said yesterday that three new galleries had sprung up in the past year: Three South, Dogcouch and Charm City Arts Space.

"They're artists; they can make up names like that," he said.

By his count, about 100 new artists have come to live or work in Station North since it was established. Fowler said 385 artists now live or work within the district's boundaries. As another sign of progress, the district was recently awarded a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts matching grant to fund advertising and signage, he said.

With an urban-renewal program and street improvements on the portion of North Avenue that runs through the district, Station North is primed for more street life, retail, cafes and galleries in revived industrial space, Fowler said.

Tomorrow's events will run from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. and include art studio shows, theater, photography and jazz performances at various locations in the district. There will also be an evening Valentine's Day "playshop" on the art of courtship at 302 Federal St., in the fourth-floor gallery where, for $5, couples can work on their wooing skills through love letter-writing and mask-making.

For more information on the festival, go to www.stationnorth.org.

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