9 Trends Of '09

Revisiting The Year's Ups And Downs In The Arts Scene<

December 20, 2009

This was the year of Oprah and the opera, of The Boss and The Baker Awards, of Twitter and "The Raven."

Inside today's section is a smattering of some of the top trends on Baltimore's arts scene in 2009. Think of them as billboards along a highway: Each one points to a different exit, and yet taken together, they provide a pretty good road map of where we're heading.

Though there were some heartbreaking losses in the past year, such as the demise of the Baltimore Opera, there also were some exciting developments.

The city threw a humongous bicentennial birthday bash for favorite son Edgar Allan Poe. The economy has started to perk up. And there are indications that Jon + Kate might finally be off the air for good.

See? Don't you feel better already?

The recession and the arts

The faltering economy hit Baltimore's arts community hard this year. The cruelest blow came in May, when the Baltimore Opera Company was liquidated, right down to sets and costumes in storage and posters on office walls. Various factions of board, staff and patrons should have come together to find a way to save the historic company, but the odds were formidable.

Drops in attendance, contributions and endowment fund values (for those fortunate enough to have endowments) caused many organizations to face staff reductions, pay cuts and furloughs, postponed or canceled events. At the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, musicians gave back 12.5 percent in salaries and benefits. The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra suspended operations in January to regroup for the fall. Theater companies felt the pinch in various ways, and a budget shortfall at the Maryland Historical Society led to layoffs and curtailed hours of operation.

The Walters Art Museum's cost-cutting included scrapping a collaborative exhibition with the Mus?e d'Orsay in Paris and the Getty in Los Angeles. Still, the free admission policy at the Walters held firm, as it did at the Baltimore Museum of Art, positive signs in the midst of gloom. And even though the finality of Baltimore Opera's demise in 2009 still casts a pall as 2010 nears, the new year is starting to look a lot better for the health of local culture than the last.

- Tim Smith

Saving the Senator

The battle to keep Baltimore's single-screen movie showplace, the Senator Theatre, up and running, was rarely out of the news - and that's to be expected when the fate of any city landmark hangs in the balance. But in this age of impersonal megaplexes, the impassioned debate over the Senator's future, which came to a head when the city took ownership in July, reveals how much loyalty an individual cinema can earn when it's run with affection for movies and respect for audiences.

Under Tom Kiefaber's stewardship, the Senator was a place where moviegoers could expect expert presentation.

The city is now considering a handful of proposals for the theater's future. Movie exhibition is at least a part of all of them. Kiefaber prefers the Towson University-sponsored WTMD-FM bid to transform the site into a base for the radio station and an eclectic education and performance platform. The other credible plans include one from the owner of the Charles, James "Buzz" Cusack, to continue booking the Senator as a first-run theater, enhanced by a crepes shop and restaurant like those that flank the Charles.

The hope is that the Senator can retain its touch of class and its anchor value to the neighborhood as it heads into a vital eighth decade.

- Michael Sragow

Local bands make good

If 2008 was the year Baltimore's music scene broke out, 2009 was the year it paid off for Baltimore bands.

Many prominent local groups signed deals with national record labels this year. In September, ambient pop duo Beach House signed with Sub Pop Records, home to acts like the Postal Service, the Shins and Flight of the Conchords. The long-haired, hard-rocking foursome J-Roddy Walston and the Business signed with Fairfax/Vagrant Records this month. And former WZT Hearts member Jason Urick joined several other Baltimore groups, including Double Dagger, Thank You and Human Bell, on Thrill Jockey Records, a Chicago-based label.

Meanwhile, composer Dan Deacon (also known as Baltimore's Wizard of Weird) released "Bromst," his darkest, most cerebral album to date. And Merge Records put out indie rock duo (above) Wye Oak's sophomore album, "The Knot." Both records were warmly received.

"It's been a fertile year for Baltimore bands," said Greg Szeto, who runs the Baltimore-based music blog Aural States. "There's even more stuff cropping up."

- Sam Sessa

The Boss is king

A host of A-list bands hit the road this year, and nearly every one played a show in the area. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band made a triumphant return to Baltimore, playing the 1st Mariner Arena for the first time since 1973, when they opened for Chicago.

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