Weekend Festival To Celebrate A North Avenue Awakening

April 25, 2009|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Baltimore is often changing before your eyes. I was reminded of this as I talked with Maryland Institute College of Art students as they readied a part of the old North Avenue Market for an event to be held this evening at 6 and 9 at 12 W. North Ave. The show, or "multimedia, experimental fashion event" is called "Brouhaha: A Six-Alarm Affair."

The title is a reference to the six-alarm fire that destroyed the old market in August 1968. Parts of this cavernous landmark were immediately repaired. But the heart of the old city market, with its huge skylights, has been closed and essentially sealed off for four decades. It's a metaphor for much of the surrounding real estate - once-productive places that continue to be mothballed.

It has been a 40-year sleep. Everyone agrees the neighborhood is waking up, and this weekend, as part of a Station North Spring Music Festival, the area will show off what is happening in the arts scene.

It is not all about listening to music or buying a beer at one of the local bars. Baltimore often uses these festivals as a way to draw attention to places that could use the exposure.

In my dreams, I see the North Avenue Market in a new life, renewed as the old Loyola complex was for Center Stage, or the remake of American Can on Boston Street, the American Brewery on Gay Street or the Clipper Mill in Woodberry.

The neighborhood is also promoting the sale of homes along Calvert, Barclay and Federal streets, as well as Guilford and Lafayette avenues much in the same way that residential activist groups championed Fells Point and Butchers Hill in the 1970s. You can catch part of the same spirit in the Old Goucher neighborhood, which is named for Goucher College's tenure here (the school moved to Baltimore County in the late 1940s). A community open house will be held from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday. It will begin at Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, 2200 St. Paul St.

I spoke with Ashley Lloyd, a MICA senior from Jacksonville, Fla., part of the team staging the fashion event in the market hall.

I inquired about the neighborhood, and she answered candidly. About five years ago, when she was a high school senior in a pre-college MICA program, she was told she could not walk alone from the school's main Mount Royal Avenue campus to Maryland and North. The school then required that a chaperon or older student be present, she said.

That is no longer true. I often walk along North Avenue at night and am amazed at the number of people far younger than I who patronize bars and arts studios along Charles Street and North Avenue. I don't pretend to understand this music scene, but the numbers it attracts suggest this area is indeed emerging from the 40-year nap.

Part of the issue is the sheer size of some of the structures here. Many, like the market, are just enormous by Baltimore standards. They require an infusion of capital that will take a while to put together.

It has not been easy. You might have thought that such highly visible landmarks such as the old Chesapeake Restaurant would have come back to life by now. No. It has been closed and its building lifeless for 20 years.

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