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!


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.