Arts district is no failure

May 21, 2010

Characterizing the Highlandtown Arts District as a "failure" ("Do arts districts live up to their hype?," May 14) is an insult not only to the hundreds of cultural workers who have poured their resources into turning East Baltimore into a set of thriving, expanding neighborhoods, but it's an insult to Baltimore as a whole. Baltimore's arts districts continue to grow and expand, and while most of the artists who work to bolster Baltimore's spirit and reputation are doing it more for love than money, the arts in Baltimore certainly seem to be thriving.

Nearly a decade ago, I moved to Baltimore because I fell in love with the city, particularly because of its place in the history of the arts and the potential for growth that permeated the city's atmosphere. I was in search of a city in which to change careers, and Baltimore won.

This was before the advent of the Station North Arts District, Wham City, Ace of Cakes and the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower. When I arrived in Baltimore, you couldn't drive across the Charles Street bridge, much less hold the Artscape Midway on it.

In those days, the Creative Alliance was still in a storefront on Conkling Street, and it was in that storefront that I found a place to launch my Baltimore career. As I've grown to take part in a number of Baltimore's cultural landmarks, from the Charm City Kitty Club to the Transmodern Festival and the Maryland Film Festival, I've been proud to watch the Creative Alliance grow into the Patterson Theater and become a beacon for the arts for the entire city. Your article claims that one organization cannot transform an entire community, but I think that's a false and cynical claim from someone who has never set foot in the Patterson Theater circa 2010. The success of the Creative Alliance serves as a constant reminder that with vision and lot of hard work, change is possible; that if Highlandtown and Patterson Park can become a haven for the arts, so too can North Avenue and any number of other neighborhoods of our beloved yet beleaguered city.

To wit, the Creative Alliance is already responsible for creating city-wide crosscurrents. As a programmer as well as a performer, I've found myself fortunate enough to regularly book events in the east, west and center of town, thereby allowing me to tailor each event to the venue for which it is best suited. This happens so frequently so that I rarely see a vast division between east and west Baltimore — which is a good trick given how difficult it is to get across town without a car.

The Transmodern Festival, the annual avant-garde arts festival which I help curate, has made a point of holding its proceedings in various venues around Baltimore in its seven years — this year ranging from the Baltimore Museum of Art to the Inner Harbor to the H&H Galleries. It should be noted that when the Transmodern Festival launched in December 2003, it was in the Chela Gallery on Boston Street, in the East Baltimore arts district.

As with any city, Baltimore is an organism — what happens on the east side affects what happens on the west side. What happens in the north affects the south. What happens in the center radiates out. The children's arts and literary programs of Highlandtown are fueling the Artscape artists of Baltimore's future; there is no reason that some bizarre east-west straw man needs to be erected. What Baltimore does not need is its purported paper of record drawing unnecessary divisions and offering up the Highlandtown arts district as a sacrifice.

Ultimately, the thing that bothers me most is that the Sun writers and editors are content to pass off editorializing as reportage. By what measure, exactly, does the Baltimore Sun gauge a failure to flourish?

Rahne Alexander, Baltimore

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