Kicking back at the Walters Art Museum

ON NIGHTLIFE

December 07, 2006|By SAM SESSA

Fridays at the Walters, a weekly evening program at the Walters Art Museum, has the right ideas to attract young people:

Host live bands and spoken-word poets. Set up a cash bar. Have visual and literary arts scholars discuss their areas of expertise.

Though each of these is good in its own right, the museum needs a better setup to bring all three together so people can socialize more. Having a common space where a group of people can interact is just as important as bringing in talented acts. The way it stands, Fridays at the Walters has some great events but as a whole feels a little disjointed.

Last Friday, there were more young people than old touring the Courbet and the Modern Landscape exhibit and the rest of the museum from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. My girlfriend Amie and I were able to see a few floors, and we really enjoyed it. The museum used crisp white lights on Courbet's winter landscapes, which made them seem almost three-dimensional.

The room filled with knights' armor and centuries-old weapons fascinated me, and Amie liked the beautiful preserved butterflies in the adjacent space. Making the admission free was a great move - we didn't feel like we had to rush through just to get our money's worth.

C.D. Dickerson and Andrew W. Melon gave a talk titled "Fun With Red-Hot Metal" at 6:30 p.m., but we couldn't get back in time. Instead, we sat down in the cafe for a drink. Wine and imported bottles of beer were $4.50, domestic bottles were $3.50 and sodas were $2.50. Pricey, sure, but that's to be expected - you're drinking in a museum.

As you walk in the Centre Street entrance, the cafe is to your right, between the lobby and the gift shop. Bread sticks and crackers sat on the dozen or so tables, but few people noshed on them. As patrons trickled in to see Lo Moda, the six-piece band scheduled to perform at 7 p.m., they would walk into the cafe, look around, see that no one was sitting there, and walk out again. Only a handful actually ordered drinks and mingled.

Maybe the location was the reason. The cafe is across the lobby from the Graham Auditorium, and you couldn't leave the cafe with a drink in hand. It might make more sense to set up small tables in the lobby. The current setup forced people to either stay in the cafe and drink or find seats in the auditorium and wait for the band to. More people did the latter.

Lo Moda's lineup included a singer, keyboardist, guitarist, bassist, drummer and violinist. The band's swirling songs had short, repetitive riffs - some dark and melancholy, others more ambient. The drummer, whose kit had no kick drum, stood and tapped on the high hat and snare. The singer sometimes toyed with phrases, changing the same line slightly at the end. But he was by no means the main focus - each instrument added something to the sound.

Band members could have been tighter - sometimes the drummer and guitarist were off beat - but overall, the music definitely fit the exhibit. I'd almost rather hear Lo Moda's music in the Courbet rooms than the weird drone that plays there.

Both the band and the museum were impressive, and Fridays at the Walters is worth checking out. All it needs is a way to get the crowd mingling.

The next Fridays at the Walters is tomorrow night. It features carols by Joyous Voices at 6 p.m. On Dec. 15, John Shields, manager of docent and internship programs, will present "Great Gifts: Lavish Treats for Royalty" at 6:30 p.m. and spoken word/hip-hop duo the 5th L will perform in the auditorium at 7 p.m. for $5. Call 410-547-9000 or go to thewalters.org.

Podcast

Listen to my new podcast, the final of a three-part Fort Avenue bar crawl series, at baltimoresun.com/sessa.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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