Arts lovers get a free ride in October

October 04, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special to the sun

Remember back when you had to pay for activities like touring the Constellation, seeing the city from the Top of the World Observation Level, listening to a Peabody concert or watching a classic film at the Charles Theatre?

Well, that was sooo last month.

It's October now, and your money is no good at some 85 venues participating in the second annual Free Fall Baltimore. About 300 events, ranging from a Center Stage production of Arsenic and Old Lace (alas, sold out) to a mock discussion between the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, to showings of classic 3-D films at the Charles, are being offered free of charge. And many museums in town, including the Streetcar Museum, the Museum of Industry and the Jewish Museum, are waiving their normal admission fees for the month -- or at least select dates this month. (The Walters Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art are already free year-round.)

In its second year, Free Fall has more activities than before, but also less time -- it's being held only in October, instead of October and November.

"Doing it over two months is a little bit hard to sustain," said Tracy Baskerville, director of communications for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts. New participating venues this year include the Contemporary Museum, the National Museum of Dentistry and Vagabond Players.

Organizations, eager to make a good impression on new audiences, tend to bring out their finest offerings. Baltimore Clayworks is offering free workshops, for example, and Arena Players is showcasing Four Queens, No Trump, by award-winning playwright Ted Lange, better known to people over a certain age as Isaac from The Love Boat.

In addition to waiving the admission fee -- normally $8.75 for adults -- Thursdays through Sundays, the Constellation is giving presentations twice a day on the ship's role in fighting the illegal slave trade in the years leading to the Civil War. The program, about an hour long and led by guides in Civil War-era costume, is normally offered during Black History Month and by appointment, said executive director Chris Rowsom. When the same program was offered during Free Fall Baltimore last year, he said, attendance tripled, to about 16,000. "It worked out very, very well for us," he said.

Though guidelines for Free Fall are loose, many venues choose to explore Baltimore's history through exhibits, lectures and shows. At the Top of the World observatory in the city's World Trade Center, a photo exhibit from now through Oct. 13 will examine the life and times of Civil War hero Robert Smalls, the first African-American to have an Army ship commissioned in his honor, said Jim Clark, the observatory's manager.

Tonight, a reception will be held from 5 to 7 with Kitt Alexander, a historian who has been "working to have this story told," said Clark.

A second exhibit, featuring the work of local photographer Greg Nickey, will run Oct. 14 through Nov. 3, with a free reception scheduled from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 18. Don't bother to bring your wallet. The normal admission price ($5 for adults, $3 for kids) will be waived.

Organizations also work together during Free Fall. The Maryland Humanities Council, for example, is holding one event at the BMA and another at the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center.

The BMA event, scheduled for Oct. 16 at 7 p.m., will feature a "conversation about race in America" moderated by Marc Steiner of WYPR and featuring actor Bill Grimmette as Martin Luther King Jr. and Charles Everett Pace as Malcolm X. On Oct. 27, Grimmette, in his role as King, will give an interactive performance to students at the Eubie Blake center.

Baskerville said most participating organizations received between $1,000 and $20,000 to cover the costs of events. The money -- $500,000 in all -- came from the mayor's office, she said. The Maryland Film Festival is using its grant to show 3-D films, said Eric Hatch, programming administrator for the festival.

The movies -- Dial M for Murder, The Mad Magician, House of Wax and Kiss Me Kate -- are being screened on consecutive Wednesday nights, starting at 7 p.m., in the main theater at the Charles. The next one is Mad Magician, scheduled for Wednesday. Though admission is free, this event, like many others, requires reservations.

According to Hatch, Free Fall is fulfilling its purpose of introducing new audiences to Baltimore's cultural offerings. "We're getting calls from people who have never heard of us before," he said.

For more information and to find out how to make reservations for events, go to freefallbaltimore. com. You can also call the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts at 410-752-8632.

Free Fall

American Visionary Art Museum -- 800 Key Highway / 410-244-1900. No reservations required.

Oct. 28: Free admission, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; performances by Poetry for the People Baltimore, WombWork Productions and more.

Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum -- 901 W. Pratt St. / 410-752-2490. No reservations required.

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