In May, 2009, John Lewis and I wrote "Arts Under Attack," bemoaning the sorry state of the arts in town in the wake of the closing of the Baltimore Opera Company and looming cuts to the state arts budget.
Just two and a half years later, things are looking considerably better, especially for the once ailing theater community. The Station North Arts District has brought energy to the scene and the Single Carrot Theater has built a reputation as an avant-garde enterprise of considerable imagination and wit. While the departure of Creative Director Irene Lewis had been seen as a step backward for Centerstage, the hiring of highly respected UK playwright Kwame Kwei Armah to replace her has been seen as a bold, promising move. In addition, traveling productions now have two large halls to choose from, the Hippodrome and The Lyric Opera House, and are making more frequent local stops, and the high-quality Everyman Theater will soon make an ambitious move to a large space in the West Baltimore Arts District, adjacent to the Hippodrome.
And now, as the The Sun reported over the weekend, two local theater veterans will launch a totally free theater company, Baltimore Open Theater, next year. Philip Arnoult, who founded the Theater Project, among other things, and Buck Jabaily (pictured), who co-founded Single Carrot in 2007 and is currently Director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (he will step down next month), are scouting out locations in Station North and West Baltimore for the company, which will showcase companies visiting from around the world, as well as homegrown talent. The theater got its initial funding from the Deutsch Foundation and will be seeking additional funding sources.
The upturn in prospects reminded me of something MICA President Fred Lazarus said in our 2009 story: "One of Baltimore's great strengths is that it has always been able to perform better than its resources, in terms of its cultural community." Yet again, we are the little city that could. Let's hope we keep chugging along.