A Very Good Year

Exciting developments kept the arts scene in the spotlight

December 30, 2007

An explosion, a beloved theater saved from foreclosure, a felon redeemed - yes, a year on the Baltimore arts and entertainment scene might have the makings for a great movie. Here's a sample of what made 2007 so dramatic:

New arrivals included Marin Alsop as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the summer's Paetec Jazz Festival, Single Carrot Theatre and the Landmark Theatres multiplex in Harbor East. The Virgin Festival and Free Fall Baltimore made happy returns. Our best and most telegenic shone on reality TV: Lakisha Jones on American Idol, Julienne Irwin on America's Got Talent and Christian Siriano on Project Runway. Even disgraced cop Ed Norris has found his second act as a top-rated radio host.

Hairspray showed a glorious, nostalgic vision of Baltimore. While the Wham City arts collective and the Station North Arts District blossomed, the Senator Theatre teetered at the financial brink but was saved. Preservationists won temporary protection for the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre. And, between the performance and a tetchy propane tank, the BSO had a truly explosive gala in September.

What follows are paeans to our "lucky seven" - some of the most colorful contributors to Maryland's arts scene in 2007.


Doreen Bolger

Guiding the BMA for 10 years

When January brings a $10 million gift, and a few months later you get $5 million more plus a major donation of artworks, it's a pretty good bet you're having a great year.

For Baltimore Museum of Art director Doreen Bolger, everything came up roses in 2007.

She celebrated her 10th anniversary as director, having presided over a decade of change that saw the reinstallation of the museum's famed Cone Collection, major staff reorganizations and important acquisitions.

In just the last year she's overseen a widely acclaimed Matisse sculpture exhibition and garnered an important gift of 77 prints by the artist. She also led the museum through its first full year of free admissions.

"After 10 years, so many things that I hoped for the museum have happened," Bolger said. "The gifts reflect people's realization of how much the arts contribute to Baltimore."

The $10 million gift in January from Baltimore philanthropist Dorothy McIlvain Scott was the largest cash gift from one person in the BMA's 92-year history. It will be used to spruce up the museum's wing for American furniture and decorative arts.

In September, an anonymous donor gave $5 million to endow the director's office. In October, the museum announced the Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Foundation's gift of prints by the modernist master, worth $600,000.

What's ahead? "I always knew the local arts community had to be an important part of our mission," Bolger says. "That's why I'm glad we're incorporating local artists into our programs and collaborating with the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts for the next three years to present the Sondheim Prize exhibition. The museum is always changing, and I can't even imagine what it will be like in 100 years."


Marin Alsop

Energizing the BSO

Since the summer of 2005, when she was tapped to be the next music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop has been the topic of cultural life around here. But it was 2007 that really became her year, an unmistakable milestone.

In January, while still officially music director designate, Alsop led an unprecedented combination of the BSO and Peabody Symphony Orchestra in a blockbuster program that, in one fortissimo after another, reaffirmed her energizing style and imaginative ideas. The next month, she conducted the BSO's first program devoted to the music of Philip Glass, a long-overdue acknowledgment of the Baltimore-born composer.

March was newsy, too - a live recording from the January triumph became the BSO's first download on iTunes, a best-seller at that. By September, the orchestra's first commercial recording in eight years was on the shelves, and the BSO became a new presence on XM Satellite Radio, starting with a live broadcast of Alsop's official, tenure-starting concert that month.

The historical nature of her inaugural season - Alsop is the first female music director of a major American orchestra - led to remarkable media coverage, including extended segments aired nationally on PBS and NBC. Although all the attention also meant fresh reminders of the bumpy start to Alsop's association with the BSO (the musicians initially balked when her appointment was announced), the unpleasantness now seems very remote.

With energetic music-making, provocative programming (lots of exposure to eminent living composers), and an audience-friendly personality, Alsop's 2007 adventure has left a vivid impression. Next year, which includes two BSO appearances at Carnegie Hall, promises to be even more eventful.


Matthew Weiner

Creator of `Mad Men'

No Hollywood writer/producer has enjoyed more success this year than Baltimore-born Matthew Weiner.

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