A first glimpse inside harbor `gem' warms their hearts

Premiere of film draws crowd to African-American museum

February 09, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Some 200 political, community and business leaders gathered at the soon-to-be-opening Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture last night to catch two sneak peeks, of a new HBO film and of the newest jewel in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

The movie was Lackawanna Blues, starring Law & Order's S. Epatha Merkerson as the indomitable owner of a '50s-era boarding house in upstate New York. The jewel was the Lewis Museum, which will, when it opens in June, be the second-largest museum devoted to African-American history in the nation.

Although staff moved into the building at Pratt and President streets in December, the actual exhibit space is largely vacant; the June 25 grand opening is still better than four months away. But last night's invited guests sounded more anxious to talk about the museum than the movie.

"This museum will be an invaluable cultural landmark," predicted City Council Vice President Stephanie Rawlings Blake. Devoting so much space to the African-American experience, she said, will allow "for the cultural opportunities in this city to reflect the diversity of the city."

For museum board Vice Chair Aris T. Allen Jr., who oversaw the design and construction of the building, last night provided a welcome opportunity to see the fruits of his labors put to use.

"I come into the building very often," said a beaming Allen, "and there's usually nobody here. It's nice to get some people into it, to get some life into it."

Lackawanna Blues, premiering at 8 p.m. Saturday on HBO, stars Merkerson as Nanny, the strong-willed operator of a '60s-era rooming house in Lackawanna, N.Y. Her morals, compassion and strong sense of self make a lasting impression on both her boarders and members of the surrounding community.

Last night's premiere, the first in the building's theater, opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring more than a dozen people, including several City Council members, City Comptroller Joan Pratt; Sharon Pinder, special secretary of the governor's Office of Minority Affairs; Sandy Bellamy, the museum's executive director; musuem board Chairman George L. Russell Jr., and Shelby Stone, one of four executive producers of the film. The event was sponsored by Comcast and HBO.

Scheduled for a grand opening June 25, the $35 million, 82,000-square-foot Lewis Museum will be the second largest facility dedicated to African-American history and culture in the country. Key to the museum's mission will be a black studies curriculum designed by the state Board of Education for use in kindergarten through 12th grade.


What: Lackawanna Blues

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: HBO

In brief: The richness of African-American life in a segregated upstate New York community of the 1950s lovingly remembered.

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