Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bmore Historic

I'm looking forward to this Friday's Bmore Historic "unconference," a daylong, participant-led series of conversations about "public history, historic preservation, and community development."

I've proposed a session on neighborhood vibrancy, just as a way of getting people's thoughts about what that means and how to make it happen.

Other proposed sessions include "Instant Living History," "Place-Based Local History," "Mapping Place: Experiments in Digital and Spatial Humanities."

I have no idea what that last one means. But it sounds pretty wicked.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Red Stars

Legend has it that sometime in the 1800's, Baltimore's ladies of the evening painted red stars on the sidewalks in Fells Point, as a means of leading visiting sailors to the dens of ill repute.

While I cannot affirm the veracity of this story (a cursory Google search yielded attestations that were not exactly scholarly), I've always been charmed by the idea of sailors - newly arrived in port with their, er, guns primed - eagerly pursuing a trail of iniquitous bread crumbs through the gloomy, reeking dockside streets toward the promise of bare shoulders, ample bosoms, and, most likely, an early, syphilitic death.


When I first arrived in Baltimore in the eighties, the sidewalks of Fells Point still boasted numerous examples of the fabled red stars. Today their numbers are diminished. The star above is one of three that still exist on Ann Street, between Pratt and Gough.

So here's a toast to those randy seafarers of yore and those Baltimore working girls for whom they yearned during those frightening, harsh, and lonely nights on the Atlantic. When the last of the red stars is gone, may their ghosts still find the right door.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

[VERB] Baltimore: Harnessing the Power of Homegrown Ideas



The following is a post I wrote for the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers blog. Since that site is viewable to members only, I'm reposting the entry here, with permission.

Full disclosure: I participated in an early discussion about identifying IBB presenters.

***************************


Over 75 people crowded the Windup Space in the Station North Arts District on May 26 to listen to 15 speakers present their ideas about how to make Baltimore a better place to live and work. Titled "Ignite for a Better Baltimore” (IBB), the event was the brainchild of Kate Bladow, a nonprofit technology consultant, and Alex Rinsler, a campaign and project manager who currently works for Feats, Inc.

As a member of the Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF) investment team, I attended IBB because I was eager to hear local thinkers and doers (including several BCF grantees) present unconventional approaches to building on the city's assets and overcome its pressing problems.

The roster of speakers at IBB featured: tech entrepreneur Mike Subelsky, who spoke of the need to harness the energy and ideas generated by gatherings like IBB as a way of increasing Baltimore's tax base; social enterprise pioneer John Herron of Harbor City Services , who challenged aspiring social entrepreneurs to balance their organizations' social missions with the bottom line; Alissa Richardson, a Morgan State University professor who researches the behavior of the "millennial generation;” and Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance executive director J. Buck Jabaily, who described new pathways and obstacles in Baltimore's arts and culture landscape.


IBB keynote speaker Mike Subelsky

Other IBB speakers included:
Reverend Heber Brown III - Pastor, Pleasant Hope Baptist Church
Peter Bruun - Artist and Art Educator; Contractor, Art on Purpose
John Campagna - Managing Partner, Restore Capital
Megan Hamilton - Program Director, Creative Alliance
Geoff Livingston - Partner & Co-Founder, Zoetica
John Shepley - Vice President, Emory Knoll Farms
Jill Sorensen - Executive Director, Baltimore-Washington Electric Vehicle Initiative
Jack VandenHengel - Executive Director, Shepherd's Clinic
Tracy Ward - Publisher, Urbanite
Tong Zhang - Chief Innovations Officer, Incentive Mentoring Program

[Videos of all of these speakers' presentations can be viewed on IBB's YouTube channel.]

IBB organizers Bladow and Rinsler met through Bmore Smart, a networking group for social entrepreneurs in Baltimore. Members meet monthly to learn about startup organizations and attempt to connect them with resources. In developing the idea for IBB, Bladow and Rinsler chose to make the event a spinoff of Ignite Baltimore, a regular series of short talks in which speakers get five minutes and 20 PowerPoint slides each to present an idea. Ignite, in turn, was inspired by the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conferences that have gained worldwide attention in recent years.

Bmore Smart, Ignite, IBB, and similar gatherings (including Create Baltimore, Amplify Baltimore, Innovate Baltimore, and TEDx Baltimore, among others) are part of a growing trend of local events that bring together a cross-section of area residents representing the arts, creative, tech and nonprofit communities. Attendees are mostly social media-savvy twenty- and thirty-somethings who wish to explore collaborative, cross-disciplinary ways of improving the quality of life in the region.

As a grantmaker, one of my only criticisms of these gatherings is their lack of follow-through. The speakers are energetic, their ideas frequently inspiring, and the crowds enthusiastic, but while the events provide presenters and attendees with good networking opportunities, there tends to be little in the way of tangible outcomes. With IBB, organizers Bladow and Rinsler sought to address this.

"Our hope was that people would walk away having met a person who could help them with an idea,” says Bladow, 31. "We specifically brought together speakers who could connect people. We intend to do some follow up, [to] reach out to people after the event, figure out what the next steps are.”

One of the most memorable IBB presentations was by Rebekah and Justin Kuk, a young couple who stumbled almost inadvertently into providing affordable housing for homeless people in West Baltimore. Having recently moved to Bolton Hill, they were struck by the number of homeless people they encountered while on their regular bike excursions through Fells Point. The Kuks struck up conversations with their homeless neighbors. Before long, they were helping to connect their new acquaintances with food and other resources.

Troubled by the lack of affordable housing available to people in extreme poverty, Rebekah and Justin bought and renovated a five-bedroom house in Reservoir Hill in order to provide affordable rental housing to individuals transitioning from homelessness to stability. The couple now has plans to connect renters to vocational training, job placement, and other services.
From their talk, it was clear that Rebekah and Justin have compassion, intelligence, and energy to spare; what they lack are technical knowledge and resources. Following their presentation, I approached them and offered to help them think about strategies to sustain and expand their project. We have a meeting scheduled for next week.

Bladow expressed her satisfaction that such an interaction arose from IBB. "That's exactly sort of connection that this event was designed to foster,” she says, adding that speaker Alissa Richardson and web designer Mike Brenner are collaborating on the development of a video game camp for children.

Events like IBB, the regular Ignite series, Create Baltimore, TEDx, etc. offer local funders abundant opportunities to tap into the passion, intelligence, and innovative thinking among Baltimore's burgeoning "creative class.”

While obviously not all ideas are ripe for funding, these gatherings can expose grantmakers to diverse groups of talented professionals who are committed to building on Baltimore's strengths and surmounting its challenges.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Uh..Line?" A N00b Dips His Toes in Acting


Sometime back in late 2009, when I was newly divorced and adjusting to unfamiliar bachelorhood, I was whining to my friend Carly about my need to find something to do with my free time that didn't involve: a) drinking myself into a stupor; or b) re-watching the entire series run of Battlestar Galactica in my underwear while eating baked beans directly out of the saucepan.

She suggested, somewhat to my surprise, that I consider getting involved with local theater. I found the notion intriguing, as I do quite a bit of public speaking as part of my day job and I love films and plays, but I have always considered myself more of an enthusiastic audience member than an actor. In any event, the last time I acted in a play was when I was nine years old and I played my school's headmaster with a lot of talcum powder to whiten my hair. The performance was a hit with my classmates. The headmaster was less than amused.

The idea stayed in my head, however, and a few months later I volunteered to participate in a staged reading of a short play written by another friend, Peter Davis, as part of a series produced by the Playwrights Group of Baltimore. The show was performed at the Strand Theater in May of last year, and was followed by an invitation to do the readings at the Kennedy Center's Page to Stage festival.

Going from idle conversation in a cafe to acting at the Kennedy Center (admittedly not on the main stage, but still) was surprising and thrilling. Beyond the novelty of the experience, though, was the unexpected pleasure of meeting and working alongside a group of men and women for whom acting is a vocation, not a dodge. The passion, intelligence, and discipline they brought to their craft was inspiring.

I discovered that most of these actors were in their mid-to-late-twenties and many of them are associated with Glass Mind Theatre, which was named "Best New Theater" by Baltimore's City Paper in 2010. I attended a couple of GMT shows and even interviewed its associate artistic director, Sarah "Flash" Gorman, for this blog back in March. When the opportunity arose this year to audition for GMT's spring production, 'Brainstorm, Vol. 2: Baltimore Mixtape,' I thought, 'oh, what the hell.'

Here are the things that I didn't expect when I sent that email requesting an audition time slot:
1) I didn't expect to be chosen;
2) I didn't expect to rehearse five hours a day, five-to-six days each week, for a month;
3) I didn't expect to be manhandling a young woman in her underwear night after night;
4) I didn't expect to be eviscerated and devoured onstage, six inches away from my horrified mother;
5) I didn't expect to have so much fun.


For anyone who hasn't yet seen the show, which closes its run with three performances this weekend, here's the premise: GMT audience members and others were asked to write down song titles and drop them into a suggestion box; six local playwrights (including the aforementioned Flash Gorman) selected one or two songs each and wrote 10-minute plays based on them; six local directors (including the aforementioned Peter Davis) were tapped to bring the plays to life; and nine local actors were cast without knowing the roles they would eventually play. The show is produced by GMT founding member Britt Olsen-Ecker, with artistic director Andrew Peters serving as stage manager. To bring home the "mixtape" theme, Britt and Andrew invited three local musical acts (Dave DeDionisio, Red Sammy, and Quinn S.) to perform during the three weekends of the show's run.



If I seem to overuse the term "local" in the paragraph above, it's not entirely the result of sloppy writing on my part. Despite the settings of the plays, which range from the Deep South to the flatness of the Heartland, 'Brainstorm, Vol. 2' is a Baltimore production from start to finish. The first weekend even featured an ode to Natty Boh, followed by a toast with Baltimore's unofficial brew. Many of the cast and crew are graduates or current students of Goucher College, Towson University, or my own alma mater, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

During last Saturday's performance, the actors competed with the noise from a Senegalese wedding in the adjoining Load of Fun gallery. At one point, a quiet moment in the play 'The Effect of Songs' was punctured by the blended cacophony of West African nuptial revelry, the blaring of police sirens on North Avenue, and the rattle of spray cans from the graffiti artists tagging the alley just outside the theater. It was a sublimely Baltimore moment, a serendipitous snippet of a raucous urban mixtape.

One of the things that has impressed me most about GMT's cast and crew is the deft way they balance professionalism with play. There's plenty of horsing around before and after rehearsals and performances - watch the video below for proof - but when it's time to focus, the ensemble does so with a discipline that is frequently lacking in work environments, even those of the shirt-and-tie variety. This ethos is very much in evidence among GMT's standing company, whose members meet on a weekly basis to discuss everything from the organization's props budget to its Twitter and Facebook accounts.

video

Watching these young actors, directors, playwrights, and techies work together, I have to remind myself that this is not a full-time job for any of them. They are all variously employed as educators, bartenders, administrative assistants, and the like. Yet they approach their theater work with admirable dedication and considerable skill. This is reflected in the ways they interact with each other, with their associate artists, and with audience members.

For me, the past two months have been like an immersion course in different aspects of acting and stagecraft. I've learned about intention, blocking, and spike marks. I've engaged in Viewpoints work, courtesy of director Lynn Morton. I've done some rudimentary stage combat for the scene in which I get devoured by cannibals - or are they werewolves? - in Shaun Vain's 'Ripped and Torn.' I've tried to locate my accent in the piedmont region of North Carolina in Julie Lewis' "Which Way We Step." I've watched the lighting and sound technicians wrangle over colors and levels. I even assisted in the construction of the platform from which Erin Boots (whom the City Paper praises as "fantastic" in the show) dives at the end of 'The Effect of Songs.'

Working on 'Mixtape' has allowed me to dip my toe into the waters of theater just enough to appreciate how deep, wide, and wild those waters are. I will always be grateful for the introduction. And, being not only the least experienced actor in the cast, but also its oldest member, I profoundly appreciate the way that everyone associated with this production has made me feel part of the ensemble.

I don't know if theater will be something that I pursue with any sort of regularity, or if this is a one-time thing. But I do know that for a couple of months in 2011, at least, I was an actor.

-------------------------------------------------------

Photos & Videos:
1. Siarra Mong & Erin Boots rehearse a scene from 'Ripped & Torn'
2. 'Ripped & Torn' director Mike Burgtorf
3. Shaun Vain, Alex Scally, & Amy Parochetti rehearse a scene from Hollis Robbins' 'Poetic Meat'
4. Musical guest Red Sammy plays 'Cactus Flower' (sorry about the camera shake in the first few seconds of that vid)
5. Lauren Saunders & Amy Parochetti rehearse a scene from 'Which Way We Step'
6. Erin Boots & Jay Hargrove get slap-happy during tech week
7. GMT founding artistic director, 'Mixtape' stage manager, & overall svengali Andrew Peters

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Taking Every Brick Personally

An oft-told story about William Donald Schaefer, who died yesterday at age 89, recounts how, as mayor, he would come banging into the City Hall in a rage about an abandoned car he passed on his way to work, or pothole that needed fixing. He would harangue his beleaguered staff, huff into his office, slam the door, and by close of business that afternoon, the car would be gone, the pothole filled.

That tale, which I've now heard from several former members of Schaefer's mayoral administration, has always struck me as a perfect illustration of everything both heroic and tragically flawed about the former Baltimore mayor, Maryland governor, and state comptroller.

He was inspiring and infuriating. He was a visionary with a penchant for micromanagement. He was possessed of a larger-than-life personality that he chronically allowed to get in his own way. He was a bare-knuckled politician with little patience for policy wonks. He could be charming and he could be belligerent. He loved his hometown of Baltimore with a towering passion, but it was a passion that hindered his ability to govern the state as a whole. He couldn't decide whether he preferred the trenches or the limelight. He had the tenacity of a mule, but also its obstinacy. He never backed down from a fight, but he never knew when he should just shut up and walk away.

Schaefer was notorious for straying from his script, a habit that was celebrated by some, lamented by others, and dreaded by his staff. A friend of mine was a greenhorn speechwriter for the then-Mayor back in the 80's. He recalled how Schaefer would approach the lectern, glance dismissively at his prepared remarks, tell the audience about the "bright young man in the back" who had "written a nice speech" for him, and then proceed to ad-lib for 20 minutes.

That off-the-cuff tendency got Schaefer into trouble on more than one occasion. Relations were frosty with the Clinton administration after he crossed party lines to endorse Republican George H.W. Bush for president in 1992. More recently, then-Comptroller Schaefer raised eyebrows and ire by criticizing immigrants and making sexist remarks about female staffers in Annapolis.

I admit I was never one of William Donald Schaefer's biggest fans. I arrived in Baltimore in 1989, shortly after he vaunted to well-deserved stardom for the miraculous transformation of the dilapidated docks at the intersection of Light and Pratt streets into the now-world-famous Inner Harbor. My first recollection of him was an unflattering news article that described how Schaefer had tracked down and verbally abused a Baltimore man who had criticized him in the press. Then came the Bush endorsement, and then, years after that, Schaefer's truculent refusal to endorse fellow Democrat Martin O'Malley in his bid for the governor's mansion.

But it was Schaefer's second term as comptroller that cemented in my mind the idea of him as a remnant of a happily bygone age in American politics, a fighter who didn't know when to quit the ring. He drew outrage from the immigrant community in 2004 when he claimed that a foreign-born employee at a fast food restaurant couldn't speak English. That same year, he asserted that people with AIDS "brought [the disease] upon themselves."

In 2006, Schaefer made lewdly suggestive comments to a female gubernatorial aide, then referred to a female reporter as a "sweet little girl." He sealed his political fate during his run for a third term as state comptroller, when he referred to his rival as a "prissy little miss" who "looks like Mother Hubbard - it's sort of like she was a man." He was voted out of his job, and out of the spotlight he loved, that year.

I met Schaefer three times, two of them after his departure from public office. The last time I saw him was at an event to announce the launch of a charitable fund in his honor that benefits Baltimore neighborhoods. This was shortly before he was moved (involuntarily, I should note) from the East Baltimore rowhome where he had spent much of his life, to a long-term care facility in Catonsville.

He was clearly in ill health. His slurred speech, glassy eyes, and confused expression betrayed hints of dementia. At first he refused to take the podium, a demurral that caused some alarm among the organizers of the event. When he finally rose to speak, a baited hush fell over the room as all the assembled news crews, friends, and community residents waited to see whether Schaefer would be able to struggle through his brief prepared remarks. The tremor in his hands was evident as he gripped the lectern. He stood there silently for several seemingly interminable seconds before opening his mouth.

And then he just blew the doors off the place. Just as he had done in countless press conferences before, Schaefer proceeded to ignore his notes and speak with customary frankness and bracing clarity. He was funny. He was insightful. He was inspiring. He mugged. He played to the cameras. He courteously acknowledged then-Mayor Sheila Dixon, who would later suffer her own fall from grace. He displayed none of the petulant incoherence that had characterized his recent public appearances. Through it all shone a dedication to his city that had never wavered in a long and hard-fought career.

Schaefer reminisced fondly about his four terms as mayor, calling it "the best job I ever had." He said that if you want to be a good mayor, you have to "wage war" on blight and garbage, you have to take "every brick out of place" in the city as a personal affront. That you have to care about the neighborhoods and the people in them.

As he delivered this fiery yet wistful valediction, I realized why he was so beloved by so many. It wasn't just that he had given 50 years of his life to public service. It wasn't just because of his operatic personality and considerable charisma. It wasn't just that he was the man behind Harborplace, Oriole Park, the Light Rail, and the surprising staying power of the slogan "Charm City."

Baltimore loves William Donald Schaefer because he loved Baltimore. He fought hard for it for over half a century. People love Schaefer because when he saw an a pothole on the way to work, he felt responsible for making sure it was filled. People love him because he took every brick out of place personally.

Godspeed, Mr. Mayor.

---------------------

Anyone wishing to honor William Donald Schaefer's memory and legacy may make a contribution to the William Donald Schaefer Civic Fund at the Baltimore Community Foundation. The fund supports projects in the Baltimore neighborhoods Schaefer loved.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Walbrook Film Project Teaches Students About More Than Holding a Camera

Filmmaker and volunteer instructor Josef Sawyer addresses the audience.

Arts, community, violence, conflict resolution, history, memory: these were some of the topics explored in three short films by 10 young artists whose work was screened yesterday afternoon at the Walbrook Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

The films were part of the Walbrook Project, a student filmmaking initiative created by Felicia Pride, founder of The Backlist, and her sister Fellina. Using the Walbrook library as a hub, the Pride sisters recruited film instructor Josef Sawyer and other volunteer mentors and armed a group of middle- and high schoolers to document aspects of life in West Baltimore over a six-month period. Support for the project came from a $1,500 Ignition Grant* awarded to Felicia Pride in September 2010.

Learning the fundamentals of filmmaking gave the young participants a new perspective on the media they consume. "I learned how to properly take an interview, how to ask questions and film it," said one student. "[The project] changed my view of media and TV...now when I watch the news, I think about how to set up the cameras, how people don't hold cameras anymore -- everything's automatic."

Another student picked up the theme. "When I watch the newscast, I'm thinking about things like headroom, how to focus on person when they're talking," she said.

The experience taught the young filmmakers more than just the basics of framing, blocking, and editing.

"We learned to work as a team," enthused one of a trio of young women who collaborated to produce the film 'Walbrook: Heart of the Arts.' "I learned how friends can operate together in a work setting."

"I learned that Walbrook used to have a lot of businesses," reflected a young man who interviewed older community residents for the film 'Through Their Eyes: Elders of Walbrook.' "I didn't know we used to have streetcars. I learned that Walbrook can be a better community."

About 60 people, most of them community residents, attended yesterday's screening. Audience members praised the students for they way they applied the skills they had acquired, and encouraged them to dream big.

Felicia Pride (far right), Fellina Pride (second from right), and other mentors applauded the young people's accomplishments.

"You never know where [the study of filmmaking] might take you," said volunteer mentor Dankwa Brooks, who works in the media unit of the Baltimore City Police Department. "Media literacy impacts how we look at messages and the media we consume."

"It's good to see that youth who don't go to Baltimore School for the Arts can still create good art," asserted a man in the audience during a question-and-answer session, drawing heartfelt applause from the crowd.

Participating in the project gave the students an opportunity to delve into particular aspects of their lives and the life of the city.

"We wanted to see how arts impact the community," explained one of the filmmakers behind 'Walbrook: Heart of the Arts.' The film features interviews with members of WombWork Productions, a grassroots company that promotes healing and empowerment through dance, theater, and other forms of creative expression.

Another film, 'Two-Way Mirror: Walbrook,' opens with a shot of two teenage boys playing ball on a grassy field on North Hilton Street, while police sirens blare in the background. The boys are approached by another pair of young men who demand the ball. When the demand is refused, a chase and scuffle ensue, culminating in a fight scene that is unsettling in its realistic depiction of violence.

"We wanted to present what we see every day in the 'hood'," explained one of the filmmakers, who put air-quotes around the word 'hood.' "This is what happens outside of school, and sometimes in school. The violence is getting worse and worse, closer and closer to where you live."

Despite its grim subject matter, 'Two-Way Mirror' ends on an optimistic note. After the beating scene, a title card appears that reads, "what should have happened..." The film then rewinds to the point where the "gang members" (as they are listed in the credits) ask for the ball. Rather than refusing them outright, the owner of the ball agrees to give it to them, on the condition that the four boys play with it together. The film closes on a scene of both pairs of young men tossing the ball back and forth.

While 'Two-Way Mirror' shows a reflection of West Baltimore's youth, 'Through Their Eyes: Elders of Walbrook' offers a portrait of three of the community's older residents.

"I love the city," says S. Bunjo Butler in the opening scene. "Everbody I love is here." Butler, who is the manager of the Walbrook Library, and who was on hand for yesterday's screening, goes on in the film to lament the "heartbreaking" changes he has witnessed to his community over time, i.e. increases in crime, drug activity, and poverty.

Despite these concerns, Butler and his fellow older adults express hope for the future. "In twelve and a half years, I'll be 100 years old," says a surprisingly spry-looking Herman Pittman in the film. A local businessman who owns several properties in the area, Pittman envisions the restoration of North Avenue into "a Main Street." Education is the key to that revitalization, he says.


Some of the reminiscences of the older people profiled in 'Through Their Eyes' provoked warm responses from the audience. "We had Arundel's Ice Cream," recalls an interviewee, who goes on to talk about how racism kept her from going to certain schools and eating at a particular restaurant. The mention of the now-defunct ice cream parlor prompted fond chuckles and murmurs of "Oh, yeah!" from the crowd.

Asked what he learned from interviewing older adults, one of the filmmakers responded, "One of the things I learned is how Baltimore was back then. And Baltimore is still changing now, so hopefully...I'll be able to tell someone who's sitting in my seat how it was back in my time."

Another young project participant said that listening to older members of the community caused her to see the economic potential in her neighborhood, and that she was now inspired to obtain a college degree in order to help realize that potential.

One young woman admitted to feeling overwhelmed by the choices facing her. "When someone asks me what I want to do when I go to college, I don't know what to say, because I want to do everything," she laughed.

Such sentiments were clearly music to the ears of the adults in the room, particularly the many proud mothers in attendance. One after another, family members, mentors, neighbors, and visitors rose to commend the young filmmakers on the works they had produced, and to encourage them to keep achieving.


The young dreamers blushed and smiled.

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The three short films will be available for viewing online in the near future. They will be linked from this site.

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*Full disclosure: I am a member of the Ignition Grant review team.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

NewsTrust Baltimore

Sharp-eyed readers -- or at least those who read past the first couple of sentences of each post -- will notice a new widget on the sidebar.

As an enthusiastic supporter of NewsTrust Baltimore, I am proud to direct Unsung Baltimore viewers to this bold and much-needed experiment to engage local residents in media literacy and criticism.

Simply put, NT Baltimore invites everyone with web access to read, review, and comment on journalism by local news outlets. While membership is free, subscribers must register using their real names, which reduces the risk of drive-by trolling and incendiary posts that sadly infest the comments threads of even reputable and established news sites. Members not only rate news stories on accuracy, fairness, context, and other indicators, but they can rate each other's reviews as well.

For me, one of the coolest aspects of this application is that it resembles a game. The more articles you review, the more comments you post, and the more peer ratings you give and receive, the more of a "trusted member" you become. By being an active participant, you can move from someone who rates articles, to a peer reviewer, to an editor, to a group host, to a content producer in your own right.

One of the goals of this project is therefore to promote transparency, accountability, responsibility, thoughtfulness, and civility on the parts of journalists, the publications they work for, the people and institutions they report on, and local news consumers.

NewsTrust was founded in 2005 by Fabrice Florin, a former news producer and software developer who helped produce MTV News, Macromedia's Shockwave, and a number of online games. NT Baltimore, which was launched in January 2011 with the support of the Open Society Foundations, is the first branch of NewsTrust dedicated to journalism from a geographically targeted news market.

The pilot phase of the project is for three months, with the hope that the initiative will continue indefinitely, based on funding and community response.

In keeping with the theme of this blog, the articles that appear in the widget to the right are exclusively about the Baltimore community.

Go ahead and sign up. It's fun. And it's valuable.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Action Alert: How (and why) to contact your reps about arts funding


The Maryland General Assembly is entering the home stretch of the 2011 legislative session. Right now your elected officials are making some tough fiscal decisions, trying to decide what types of public funding should be cut in order to meet our state's constitutionally mandated balanced budget requirement.

One of the many items on the chopping block is the Arts Preservation Fund, which provides modest but important amounts of state aid for local arts initiatives. If the arts are important to you, take a moment to read this action alert from Maryland Citizens for the Arts and contact the key delegates on the budget conference committee today.

Here are some tips for contacting your elected representatives:
  1. Be polite. Whatever you might think of politicians, they have a tough job, so be nice and thank them for doing it.
  2. Say what you want up front. Before you even get into the text of your message, name the bill or budget item and what you're asking of the policymakers (e.g., "Support HB 0000 - The Puppies Are Cute Act of 2011")
  3. Personalize it. Borrowing someone else's talking points are fine, but you should always include something from your direct experience. That way it sounds less like a form letter.
  4. Be specific. Don't just say that you support HB 0000 because puppies are cute. Say exactly why you think puppies are cute. If you like, it never hurts to back up those sorts of claims with research.
  5. Repeat the ask. Right as you close the letter, say again what it is that you want the policymakers to do.
  6. Include your name, address, and phone number.

Generally speaking, it's better for you to contact your own representatives instead of officials from some other district. But on something like the state budget, the most important legislators are the budget conferees, so they're the ones you want to target.

Finally, remember two things:
  • Elected officials always pay attention to communications from constituents.
  • If they don't hear from you, they think you're happy.

Below is the letter I just sent to the budget conferees regarding funding for the arts.

###

March 29, 2011

To: Hon. James Proctor, Jr.; Hon. Adrienne A. Jones; Hon. Michael E. Busch; Hon. Norman Conway; Hon. John L. Bohanan

Subject: Please Concur With Senate Position on Arts Funding

Esteemed Delegates:

I am writing as a proud Maryland resident and supporter of the arts to
urge you and your fellow legislators to concur with the State Senate's position on the Arts Preservation Fund for FY 2012.

As a longtime resident of Baltimore City, I can see firsthand the
impact that the arts have made on the life of our community. Over the past decade, dozens of young and not-so-young artists who in the past would have chosen to leave Baltimore for other cities, have chosen instead to remain and produce art right here in Maryland. Many of these artists receive support from the Maryland State Arts Council and other public sources of arts funding.

Witnessing so much art being produced and consumed in the Baltimore
region and throughout Maryland is not only thrilling for me as someone who appreciates the arts. It is also exciting because of its potential economic impact.

Here are a few examples from around the
State.

1) The Station North Arts District in Baltimore has transformed an
economically depressed area of Baltimore City into a thriving hub of activity. The art being produced in Station North is drawing residents who otherwise never would have thought of visiting that community and spending their money there.

Two weeks ago I attended a play produced by Single Carrot Theatre, an
acclaimed dramatic ensemble that chose Maryland as its base. Before the show I dined at a restaurant across the street from the theater. The restaurant was packed with theatergoers. Single Carrot receives support from the Maryland State Arts Council.

2) The Avalon Theater in historic Easton has become a destination location for nationally acclaimed musicians and for their fans. I recently traveled to Easton from Baltimore to watch a Canadian band perform at the Avalon, and was extremely impressed by the venue and by the local restaurant at which my friends and I dined prior to the show. Through the Avalon Foundation, the Avalon Theater also receives support from the Maryland State Arts Council.

3) In February I attended the launch of the Frederick Film Festival,
which is gaining increasing recognition for the quality of the films it annually screens. The reception and concert that marked the festival's launch were hosted by Brewer's Alley, a Frederick dining institution. The Frederick Film Festival receives support from the Maryland State Arts Council.

State funding for the arts not only helps create a thriving,
culturally vibrant Maryland with creative opportunities for all. It also helps to stimulate local economies and generates jobs for creative people who wish to contribute to the health of our state.

I deeply appreciate your past support of arts in Maryland and I call upon you to show the same spirit of support in this fiscally challenging year. Please vote to concur with the Senate and keep $500,000 for State arts funding in the budget.

Thank you for your kind consideration of this request and thank you
for all you do for Maryland.

Sincerely,

Kevin Griffin Moreno

###

Friday, March 18, 2011

Scotty Walsh and Port Discovery join with Westport students to make art

Scotty Walsh speaks prior to the mural unveiling

When Scotty Walsh found out that art had been cut from the curriculum at Westport Academy, a k-8 public school in a working class neighborhood in South Baltimore, he decided to do something about it.

A street performer, accomplished vaudevillian, and the visual arts specialist for Port Discovery Children's Museum, Walsh partnered with Westport Academy to create an eight-week, after-school arts program to engage students in painting. The result of that effort was on display at Port Discovery yesterday, as the young artists unveiled a colorful mural in front of media representatives, parents, museum officials, and special guests gathered in the museum's art room.

Scotty Walsh and Bonnie Crockett with Westport Academy students in front of their painting.

"Art really made all of the difference for me when I was a kid, so I've never forgotten the importance of art in the lives of children," said Walsh in a museum press release. "I think it's especially important to develop art programs and hopefully reach some of the children that need art in their lives."

The program was embraced by administrators at Westport Academy, where 83 percent of students are eligible for the federal free lunch program, according to the Maryland State Department of Education. The school serves a historically African-American community with a once-thriving economy which nosedived as businesses closed down or left Baltimore in the '70's, '80's, and '90's.



To jump start the painting project, Walsh sought funding from Patrick Turner, a prominent local developer who hopes to reverse the economic fortunes of the neighborhood with an ambitious $35 million waterfront redevelopment project. Walsh also reached out to Bonnie Crockett of Westport Community Partnerships and to acclaimed Chattanooga-based sculptor John Henry, who plans to install a large-scale work in the Westport waterfront space.

Henry spoke to the Westport students who gathered for yesterday's mural unveiling, calling them "the next generation of creative leaders." Each of the eight children who completed the after-school program received a certificate signed by the sculptor.

Sculptor John Henry speaks to the young artists

As the small crowd waited for the television news crew to arrive, Walsh led the children - who seemed to be between the ages of 5 and 10 - in a song and dazzled them with magic acts.



The students also drew self-portraits, taking inspiration from the self-portraits of famous artists that covered the walls.



The 5' x 10' painting will reside in Port Discovery's StudioWorkshop exhibit space.



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Faces of Homelessness


Here's something cool that was brought to my attention by my friends over at Healthcare for the Homeless.

If you or your organization is interested in learning more about homelessness from people who have direct experience with it, contact the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau – Baltimore.

###

From: Lindsay Callahan Vanderheiden, Healthcare for the Homeless

Founded by the National Coalition for the Homeless out of Washington D.C., the “Faces of Homelessness” Speakers’ Bureau is a public education program about homelessness and what can be done to end it. The speakers are individuals who have personally experienced homelessness, and are the true experts on the topic. The Bureau builds opportunities for the speakers to advocate for themselves and others and to build bridges within the community. In 2009, the “Faces” Bureau spoke to approximately 390 groups – a combined audience of over 20,500 people from over 40 states. Currently the “Faces of Homelessness” Speakers’ Bureau is based out of 16 states in the U.S.

Using their own experiences, our diverse speakers put a human “face” on homelessness dispelling the stereotypes many people have regarding persons experiencing homelessness. By fostering an environment of self-worth, respect and understanding for all people, the “Faces of Homelessness” Speakers’ Bureau challenges us to believe that we can and should end homelessness.

A standard presentation includes up to three panelists with firsthand experience of homelessness and a discussion moderator. While presentations can be customized for particular groups, classes, or events, presentations typically follow this outline:

• Introduction and Stereotypes (5-10 minutes)
• Speaker Testimonies from 2-3 speakers (10-20 minutes each)
• Question and Answer (15+ minutes)

For more information on hosting a “Faces of Homelessness” Speakers’ Bureau panel, please contact:

Lindsay Callahan Vanderheiden
AmeriCorps*VISTA
Health Care for the Homeless
(443) 703-1349
lcallahan[at]hchmd[dot]org

The Faces of Homeless Speakers’ Bureau – Baltimore is a collaborative project of Healthcare for the Homeless, National Coalition for the Homeless, AmeriCorps, and St. Vincent de Paul Baltimore.

###

(Photo above from the National Walk to End Homelessness, Washington, D.C., 2008)

Monday, March 14, 2011

And the hits keep comin'.


For those of you playing along at home, I thought it worth mentioning that within the past six months, Unsung Baltimorean Lily Susskind:

1) not only received an Ignite Baltimore Ignition Grant; AND
2) won a Baker Foundation "b" award; BUT ALSO
3) was featured on the cover of last week's B Daily as one of "10 Baltimoreans to Watch Under 30."

Can I claim an Unsung Baltimore bump? Ah, why the heck not.

The diminutive dynamo's latest ambitious project is to secure a permanent space for all sorts of dance awesomeness in Baltimore. Anyone who knows of a good building, or has leads on financing for one, hit her up.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sarah Gorman

Artistic portrayals of suburban alienation – even those that involve reanimated corpses - are not exactly new. Depictions of zombies as metaphors for social disconnection, from ‘Dawn of the Dead’ to ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ comprise a sub-genre unto themselves. However, few dramatic productions to date have mapped the intersection of narcotized suburbanites, disaffected teens, tuned-out internet addicts, and the walking dead.

Enter ‘Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom,’ a 2006 play by Jennifer Haley which has its Baltimore premiere this weekend, courtesy of Charm City’s own Glass Mind Theatre (GMT). Described by the Denver Post as “'Halo' meets ‘The Omen,’” N3 takes a darkly satirical look at suburban teens hooked on a violent video game, which becomes a source of increasing concern for their parents.

Recently I sat down with Sarah Gorman, GMT’s associate artistic director, to get the scoop on the play and learn what brought her to Baltimore.

(Full disclosure: I have a small part in an upcoming GMT production.)

------------------------------------------------------------

Sarah Gorman's career in theater began early. Her parents were both actors, and they would regularly put on performances that included their seven children. "It was mostly a way for my family to be doing the same thing in the same place at the same time," says Gorman, 23.

By the time she was 14, Gorman had "acquired a certain skill set" as an actor, along with the certainty that the stage was where she wanted to be. After graduating from the prestigious Carver Center for the Arts and Technology, Gorman studied musical theater and drama at Syracuse University. Along the road to her BFA in drama, Gorman spent a semester in London, where she had the opportunity to study and perform at the historic Globe Theatre.

Returning to Baltimore, Gorman reconnected with Alex Scally, a friend from her Carver days who had recently launched Glass Mind with Andrew Peters. In 2010 she auditioned for GMT's short play festival, 'Brainstorm,' and before long she was a full-fledged member of the company.

"Everything GMT does is collaborative," says Gorman about what attracted her to the company. "No member is more important than the other; no one opinion is more important than anyone else's." For Gorman, as for GMT artistic director Peters, the image of a glass mind "is evocative being able to look inside and see what's going on, see the synapses firing. We invite everyone to come in and look at what we’re doing and thinking."

Gorman exhorts young people to "Get out, leave the computer behind. Stop, breathe, log off."

That sense of openness and collaboration has allowed Gorman, who also performs with Factory Edge Theatre Works, to push the boundaries of her craft. In addition to performing, she has gained experience as a playwright, director, choreographer, and - in the case of N3 - set designer.

"Set design involves the visual realization of the world of the play," she explains. "It involves understanding the theory of the piece, then interpreting it, building it, and showing it."

The world of N3 is a dystopic one. The setting is an anesthetized suburbia where teens spend all their time online, playing the titular video game while their alarmed but clueless parents look on.

"N3 explores relationships between parents and kids, and between people in general," says Gorman. "It looks at how disengagement can get in the way of those relationships, and how that becomes horrific and zombielike. In the play, the kids think their parents are turning into zombies, whereas the parents have all this great commentary about how the kids sit for hours without blinking or moving...devoid of thought, personality, and ideas."

Photo courtesy of Glass Mind Theatre

Gorman feels that people of all generations will find in N3 chilling resonances with their own lives. "The play looks at the contemporary social order and social expectations, like who you're expected to be, how your lawn is expected to look, how your house is expected to be painted…it looks at the way that virtual reality extends into our own reality."

"Everybody's been in that place," she continues, "where you're on Wikipedia at 11:30, and you're only going to look at it for 15 minutes, and then you look up and it’s 3:00 a.m."

Working on the play caused Gorman to reflect on some of the challenges that face young people who grew up with the internet. "This generation doesn’t want to be connected," she laments. "People are on Facebook and Twitter -- everybody's desperate to put themselves out there and be heard, but no one is looking for an answer back."

"When you're just sitting on your ass and you have a whole city in front of you and you're missing all the opportunities...well, this [play] is one of those opportunities!"

For Gorman and other members of GMT, part of the company's mission is to combat that sense of disengagement and encourage their peers to connect in a decidedly analog way.

"Take today," she offers. "We all got here at 9a.m. Other than looking up the number for Papa John’s on a smartphone, there’s been no Facebook, no Twitter, just seven people in a room, talking."

Her face lights up with enthusiasm as she goes on. "We have company meetings once a week. You have two hours to sit with people that you love and talk about this company that you're fostering, and your ideas on art, and how we can get better, and how we can manage the business."

She exhorts young people to "Get out, leave the computer behind. Stop, breathe, log off of Facebook, go to a museum, see a play, take a walk, read a book. If you don’t get out of your comfort zone, you’re just not being challenged."

Asked why members of her generation should come to see this play in particular, Gorman ponders for only a second before replying. "It's funny, well written, clever, very well directed, and it's scary. There’s a great line…that Andrew Peters’ character says in the play - I’m paraphrasing, but it’s something like this -- we all need some space to go be, you know, just complete freaks. This play will touch on that. It’s the same sort of space that allows us to enjoy slasher movies."

"When you're just sitting on your ass and you have a whole city in front of you and you're missing all the opportunities...well, this is one of those opportunities," she concludes, laughing.

For Gorman, whose dream job is artistic director of her own company, and who would love to play Charlotte in Sondheim's 'A Little Night Music' ("such an underrated character," she sighs), theater remains an eminently relevant way to gain insight into social conditions.

"Art in general forces society to look in on itself," she remarks. "I love engaging an audience, with everyone sitting in that dark space."

"There’s a depth to this art form," she says with conviction. "There’s so much still unknown, so much yet to be learned. I want to see how our generation can evolve this art.”


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Photo courtesy of Glass Mind Theatre

'Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom' opens March 11 and runs until March 20
Venue: Load of Fun Theater, 120 North Avenue, Baltimore
Guest Director: Mary Rose O'Connor
Stage Manager: Blaine Padagoc
Set Design: Sarah Gorman
Props: Heather Mork
Lighting: Jennifer Reiser
Ticket Prices: Wicked cheap. Buy one for your mom.

And don't miss these associated events!
- Potluck for Suburban Professionals: Sunday, March 13, 6:15pm
- Zombie Spring Semi-Formal: Saturday, March 19 - Post-Show

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kalima Young

Kalima Young’s work is all about making connections. Whether in her former role as director of an adolescent AIDS program, or in her current ones as filmmaker, college professor, and education advocate, Young delights in connecting people and causes that typically haven’t been brought together before.

Young herself puts it more succinctly: “I love getting people together to make fun shit happen,” she says cheerfully.

Young grew up on Baltimore’s West Side. A self-described “Pratt brat,” she has fond memories of the hours she spent in the neighborhood branch of the
Enoch Pratt Free Library, immersed in books. She loved the library so much, in fact, that she got her first job there, as a book shelver. She was 11 years old.

That love of learning combined with service led Young to concentrate in women’s studies in college, and it has fueled her activism ever since. In 2000 she received an
Open Society Institute-Baltimore Community Fellowship to create YUHIP, a project which used the internet to teach teens about health issues.

“At that point in my life, I had been doing freelance video production and canvassing for Clean Water Action, which was fun,” she recalls.

One of the things she enjoyed about canvassing was the opportunity to erase stereotypes. “People think that black people don’t care about the environment,” she says, rolling her eyes.

YUHIP was so successful under Young’s leadership that the University of Maryland developed it into a multi-year pilot program called
Connect to Protect (C2P), which aimed to reduce the risks and consequences associated with HIV/AIDS among young people.

“The idea [behind C2P] was to bring group of people together to look at different systems and sectors and look at how to change them in order to reduce HIV,” Young explains. “It was all about mobilizing people to change in a sustainable way, not just, ‘Hey, it’s World AIDS Day!’”

Young evinces frustration when talking about the fragmented ways in which human services and other social supports are delivered to children and youth. “Young people have been falling into this river and we’ve been throwing them life jackets. We haven’t been going up to the bridge and seeing where it’s broken,” she remarks.

Asked how one diagnoses the cracks in the system, Young offers specifics from her C2P work. “Look at the increase in concentration of HIV/AIDS in one community. Look at high risk young people hanging out with low-risk young people. There are logical links. You need to look at young people from a whole perspective."

For Young, involving young people themselves in that process is an essential component of a holistic approach.

“Young people don’t know what’s going on in their own neighborhoods,” she says. “I used to work part-time as an abortion counselor at a clinic. I saw girls who didn’t want to get an abortion, but their parents forced them. They didn’t even know where to get a free pregnancy test!”

“Peer to peer recruitment is important,” she continues. "A lot of young people need psychosocial services, such as financial services, emergency assistance, health education. Through peer support groups, young people can see themselves reflected in everybody else’s face. It’s really easy to be isolated as a young person, especially when you’re trying to be drug- and sex-free."

As an African-American woman, an artist, and a longtime
LGBTQ activist, Young knows something about feeling that sense of isolation.

“A lot of the stuff I do is queer focused, so there is a disconnect in the black community, issues that [African-Americans] don’t want to see or talk about,” she says. I get a lot more openings in the queer world than in the black world, but the queer community is very white. There’s no space for black queer women.”

Breaking down those barriers involves a willingness to take risks, says Young. “People need to be willing to leave their neighborhoods. If you have privilege, acknowledge it and then do something about it. Educate yourself. Work with the community to improve it. Vote. Live by the principles you say you love!”

Young has the opportunity to impart these lessons to college students at Towson University, where she teaches classes on LGBTQ issues. “I love watching my kids’ brains explode” with new information and ideas, she jokes. She brings that sensibility to her rose as a
filmmaker, producing pieces that explore the nuances of race and gender.

And while the C2P pilot program ended in 2010, Young continues to work on behalf of children and youth. This year she started a new job as an education reform advocate with the
ACLU of Maryland, fighting to preserve funding for public schools.

“Mobilizing people for joy and justice are what feeds my soul,” she says, smiling.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Simone


Simone Christian is an Antiguan-born graphic designer specializing in print, photography, and multimedia. She also happens to be my coworker.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sweaty, delirious, and sublime


If you missed Dance Round Robin last weekend, I feel sorry for you. It was an exhilarating, innovative, and occasionally naked evening of modern dance, from the Fly-Girls-on-crack awesomeness of the Effervescent Collective to the death-defying head spins of the International Flow Syndicate.

I didn't do a head count, but it seemed like well over 200 people crammed themselves into the Lumberhaus for the show and the pre-show reception, which featured young men in startlingly form-fitting unitards serving up box wine and Boh. The crowd was composed mainly of twentysomethings, but there was a fair representation of thirty- and fortysomethings in the mix.


The performances themselves took place consecutively and in the round, hence the "round robin" part of the title. After one performer or group finished, stage lights would illuminate a different corner of the room and the audience was gently herded away from the stage of the moment. The crowd coordination and handoffs between performers were exceptionally well organized, especially given the overall DIY vibe.


Immediately after the final dance performance, Unsung Baltimorean emerita Lily Susskind stepped into the makeshift DJ booth and the fourth wall cheerfully collapsed as dancers formed a conga line and got the former audience members dancing themselves. I left around 1:00 a.m. and the dance party was still going strong.


For anyone who's too bummed about missing a fun, sweaty, stanky evening of avant-garde dance, fret not: you can check out my photos of the event here; and Effervescent Collective is having another show at Lumberhaus this weekend.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Bmore Inclusive


Last Monday, nearly 30 people gathered in the offices of the Baltimore Community Foundation to talk about issues of race and inclusiveness and how they pertain to Baltimore's emerging arts, culture, and tech sectors. The conversation was a follow up to a session at January's Create Baltimore event.

Attendees were mostly in their 20s and 30s, and included visual artists, theater folks, business consultants, community organizers, tech gurus, bloggers, cultural institution representatives, activists, and even a poet or two. The discussion was lively, informative, and thought-provoking, and participants seemed eager for it to continue on an ongoing basis.

I'm working on drafting more comprehensive notes, but in the meantime, here are some of the main takeaways from our conversation.

There was consensus that:
  • There are many different types of diversity.

  • The dynamics of race are extremely important in Baltimore, but are too often not talked about.

  • Baltimore's arts/culture/tech landscape - including established institutions as well as emerging, DIY efforts - tend not to reflect the diverse makeup of our community.

  • This does not mean that there is any lack of art, culture, or ideas being created by people of color in Baltimore.

  • Individuals, institutions, and the community at large can benefit from a more inclusive approach to generating ideas, collaborating on initiatives and events, and co-creating projects, as well as engaging new audiences/supporters.

  • If an organization wants to be more inclusive, it must be intentional - i.e., ask itself why it wants to do diversify, what sort of diversity it seeks, how it will benefit, and what it risks by doing so.

  • Being committed to inclusiveness involves a willingness to step out of one's comfort zone, e.g. going to a type of event or a part of town where one might not usually go.

  • A big reason that people don't step out of their comfort zones is because they're unaware of events, performances, and opportunities outside their social sphere.

  • Communication through in-person and online social networks offers an effective way of spreading the word about events, performances, and other opportunities.

  • The Station North Arts District is considered a "neutral space" where artists, creators, and consumers of different backgrounds can meet and collaborate.
Attendees expressed a desire to continue this conversation, possibly through a regular roundtable series hosted by Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, in partnership with BCF and/or others.

Some participants highlighted interesting events and projects, including (in no particular order):
Roots Fest 2011
Amplify Baltimore
Baltimore Heritage & The Reginald F. Lewis Museum: Preserving Baltimore's Civil Rights Heritage
Talking About Race Series
The BackList
Guardian: The Urban Social Dance Preservation Project

Want to be part of the conversation? Leave a comment.

Friday, February 25, 2011

This Weekend: Dance Round Robin!

Lily

Baltimore has a growing, dynamic dance scene, and past Unsung Baltimorean Lily Susskind is one of its poobahs. This weekend, she and choreographer Caroline Marcantoni will showcase some of the face-meltingest modern, experimental, and hip-hop dance moves this city has to offer.

What: The Baltimore Dance Round Robin
When: Feb. 26 - 27. Doors at 9 pm, show at 10
Where: Lumberhaus, 1801 Falls Rd., Baltimore
Who: Effervescent Collective, Baltimore Experimental Dance Collective, International Flow Syndicate, and more
How Much? Suggested donation: $5-$15 at the door

Want to learn more? Read this week's City Paper article featuring Lily, Caroline, and the Round Robin.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sanford and Son

One of the things that distinguishes Baltimore from larger cities like New York or Philadelphia is its relative lack of auto- and pedestrian traffic in the midtown during the day. After the bustle of rush hour subsides and commuters are safely esconced in offices, stores, and coffee shops, street activity subsides dramatically until lunchtime.

The quiet can be downright eerie, especially if you find yourself ambling past Mount Vernon Place at 10:45 on a Wednesday morning, and you realize with a bit of a chill that you're the only living creature out and about, besides the sparrows and squirrels. And, since Baltimore's reputation for weirdness is richly deserved, such a moment can quickly take a left turn toward the surreal.

One morning a couple of years ago I was walking south on Charles St. to a meeting downtown, when I noticed that I was just about the only thing moving, human or machine. Mt. Vernon was so quiet that my footsteps echoed on the sidewalk and I could hear the hum of traffic on MLK Boulevard, blocks away. It was like being in a film set in some horrible, post-apocalyptic future where a neutron bomb had detonated, killing all the people but leaving the buildings intact. Or like waking up the day after the Rapture to find that I had been "left behind."

As I was entertaining fantasies of frolicking naked through a depopulated Baltimore, I caught a snatch of what sounded like music coming from the west. I stopped walking and cocked my head to listen. Definitely music, and getting louder. It didn't sound like the standard rock or hip-hop that one might expect to hear blasting from a car stereo. There was something about it that sounded cheerier, funkier, tantalizingly familiar.

It wasn't until the source of the noise - a dilapidated pickup - rounded the corner that I recognized the music: it was, unmistakably, the theme from 'Sanford and Son.'

I stood rooted to the corner of Charles and Monument streets, gaping at the disreputable-looking jalopy as it rattled past. The truck's color was hard to determine, speckled as it was with mud, dust, and peeling paint. Its bed was piled high with broken furniture and other detritus, and inside the cab were two men wearing wide grins, paying me absolutely no attention. Mounted on the roof was a pair of speakers through which the music blared.

The truck bounced and sputtered on its way north, and I stared at its retreating taillights. The Doppler effect distorted the music as it faded. Finally I blinked a couple of times and looked around for a fellow pedestrian, any other person who could corroborate the unusual scene I'd just witnessed. To my chagrin, the street had grown quiet and empty once again.

I have never again seen or heard that truck, nor met anyone else who has. At times I wonder if the moment actually happened, or whether it was a hallucination brought about by a bad breakfast sandwich and too little sleep. I only recount what I remember, and I believe the memory to be a factual one.

After all, this is Baltimore. Weird crap happens all the time.