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The Station North Arts Walk: Photo Essay and Q&A

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The Station North Arts District (SNAD) was established in 2002 and is the first area in Baltimore to receive this state designation. SNAD has served this central part of Baltimore’s cultural community in a number of ways, and has inspired other state-designated arts districts in Baltimore City including the Highlandtown A&E, the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts District, and the Bromo Arts District, with 22 A&E districts across the state.

Station North includes the neighborhoods of Charles North, Greenmount West, and Barclay, and it houses many artist live/work spaces, galleries, restaurants, theaters, and other businesses. Its central location places SNAD in close proximity to Penn Station, Mount Vernon, Charles Village, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the University of Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins University.

Although it’s existed for twenty years, SNAD’s activities have waxed and waned with changing times and real estate in the region. But it seems to have stabilized recently with its official adoption by the Central Baltimore Partnership, an organization that brings community-activated development to Baltimore’s central region, working with hundreds of partners including nonprofits and neighborhood associations, universities, hospitals, businesses, and city agencies to cultivate a thriving ecosystem throughout the eleven neighborhoods and one commercial district of Central Baltimore.

One of a few upticks in energy and traffic in the region was sparked by SNAD’s summertime community-wide art walk series, “Station North Shines,” which BmoreArt’s Connect+Collect space has enjoyed participating in. The person behind much of this energy and focus is Maura Dwyer, SNAD’s Program Coordinator, who works in tandem with members of the CBP’s small team.

We wanted to feature some of Jill Fannon’s beautiful documentation photographs of a July art walk and reached out to Dwyer for more information about SNAD, changes afoot, their relationship with the CBP, and the success of their art walks.

 

SNAD maps at the Y Not Lot

BmoreArt: It has been a lot of different things over the past 20 years but what exactly is the Station North Arts & Entertainment District today? 

Maura Dwyer: Station North Arts District (SNAD) is a state-designated Arts & Entertainment district that used to be its own nonprofit organization. We were the first area to receive the Arts & Entertainment District designation from Maryland in 2002. As of this past year, it is now a program under the nonprofit Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP). Station North Arts District is located in the center of the city from Howard Street to the west, to Greenmount Avenue to the east, and 20th Street to the north, down to Lanvale Street and Penn Station to the south.

Where is it and who are your constituents?

Station North spans the neighborhoods of Charles North, Greenmount West, and Barclay, and the area is about 55 percent African American and 30 percent White, with a small Asian, Latino, and multiracial population, with a collection of renters and homeowners in rowhomes next to artist live/work spaces like City Arts, the Cork Factory, and the Copycat.

We have a concentration of artist-led galleries like ICA Baltimore, Baltimore Jewelry Center, MONO Practice, or the nearby Waller Gallery, performance spaces such as Metro Gallery, Stillpointe Theater, Motor House’s Black Box Theater, Baltimore Improv Group, the space where Rituals and Wind Up Space used to occupy, movie theatres like the Charles and the Parkway, maker and entrepreneurial hubs like Open Works and Impact Hub, a growing award-winning food and bar scene including Le Comptoir Du Vin, Alma Cocina Latina, Mera Kitchen Collective, and the new Guilford Street Brewery, and a few long-time local businesses like Pearson’s Florist. We’re also close to arts education institutions like the Baltimore Design School, Maryland Institute College of Art, and the JHU-MICA Film Center. Annual Baltimore festivals continue to develop in the arts district, including Artscape, the Maryland Film Fest, Asia North, and Pride. Lastly, public spaces that center art—Graffiti Alley, the Open Walls mural series, and the Ynot Lot—make the area feel like an arts district.

In May, the Station North Arts & Entertainment district began organizing a series of monthly art walks. Can you talk about some of the earlier art walk series in the district that inspired it?

The “Station North Shines” series of art walks that kicked off this summer sprouted from an earlier idea that dates back to 2018, when Station North board members were brainstorming how to highlight artists and spaces in the district through a regular media campaign that they were considering calling “Station North Shines,” along with making references to past, regular WYPR updates like “Spotlight on Station North.”

We married that idea with the desire to bring back the energy and connection brought by a much earlier and very popular art walk called AllOverStreet, located on Oliver Street. It was also a monthly art walk series organized by Kimi Hanauer, then the SNAD Program Coordinator, and it included a reception at the Station North Tool Library, an artist talk at Area 405, and multiple art openings in galleries and live-work spaces that lasted for about two years, but went on hiatus after the Ghost Ship fire in California.

 

How did the most recent Station North Art Walk come about?

Initially the series started virtually in Spring 2020 when the City’s guidelines demanded event-based programming be digital to keep everyone safer. Gradually, as the city began to open up again, we reached out to artists and venues in the district along with members of the Station North Taskforce to see if they would be interested in doing something in-person on a regular basis, and we got a resounding yes! Already, artists were planning creative projects, outdoor tabling events, performances, and new exhibits, so our role was mainly to organize those folks into a larger, district-wide event with funding support from the William G. Baker Memorial Fund, Maryland State Arts Council, and Johns Hopkins University, to increase promotion, sales, and audience growth.

Who participates?

We’ve been grateful to see 10-15 venues participate across the district each time with a variety of art exhibits, musical or fashion-based performances, free arts-based workshops, and retail and dining specials. People are invited to visit the Ynot Lot, which functions as a gathering hub, to meet SNAD staff, pick up a physical art walk map, listen to a DJ, and shop arts vendors before selecting several locations on the map and making their own self-guided tour for the evening. Usually there’s a film, performance, or theater premiere at the end of the evening at The Charles, Parkway, or Motor House, so participants have a wide range of options in terms of timing and medium.

This summer, we planned them on the final Friday of each month to balance schedules with other art walk events happening across the city so we as an arts district can do our part in bringing more free cultural programming to Baltimore city residents in general. The original AllOverStreet events were also on Final Fridays for a time, so it felt like a nice gesture to bring that schedule back.

How can new attendees and audiences get involved? When is the next art walk and where are maps available?

Our final art walk of the season is Friday, September 24th from 5-8 p.m. Maps will be posted the week of the art walk on our social media page @stationnorth, on our website under “news” at www.stationnorth.org, and you can pick up a physical map at the Ynot Lot at 4 W. North Ave. the evening of the event, or at featured venues.

We would love to develop a growing crew of volunteers who can be present at Ynot Lot during art walks and help with setup, distribute maps, and visit venues to make sure they have what they need, and track attendance throughout the evening. We’re also looking for support on collecting feedback about what audience members appreciate about the art walks, and what could be improved. We sent out a survey after the first one in May and changed several things to make the evening easier to navigate, but there’s always more and better ideas!

We’re aiming to balance hosting art walks that serve our specific district artists, spaces, and residents, while filling a gap for the city at large in terms of free cultural arts programming. If you’d like to volunteer, you can email me at mdwyer@centralbaltimore.org or message us on IG @stationnorth.

 

For venues, galleries, and spaces that want to participate, what are the criteria? What kinds of venues participate and how?

Last spring, I reached out via email or phone or visited venues in person (when they reopened) to introduce myself and ask how they might want to participate. With place-based programming, the criteria is that you need to be in or near the arts district, have some kind of current cultural arts programming (with as open a definition as possible to reach different people’s interests), agree to help promote, and be present in the space the night of the art walk, ideally with a special thing happening like offering food, live music, an artist talk, special sales, a workshop, a new show, etc. It can be a live/work space, if the home is being used in a public way, although DIY spaces pose challenges at times if they aren’t set up to host larger events.

In the past, art walks have mainly been in Greenmount West and focused on artist-run galleries in spaces like the Copycat, and studio buildings like Area 405, because there was a concentration of that thriving in the arts district. Since a lot of that infrastructure doesn’t exist as it did—many of those spaces have turned more private or only residential after 2017—we decided to branch out into the Charles North side of the district and slightly beyond as well to invite several more gallery spaces, theater spaces, retail shops, and restaurants to participate.

What are the goals?

Building relationships between artists, organizations, and venue spaces in the district is a big part of my job. Making myself and other staff members, and therefore SNAD’s resources, more accessible to everyone who would like to partner with us is something I’d like to strengthen. We have some systems in place that make participating more streamlined, but that part of this work needs some love! While we do have real, concrete limits on our time, funding, and space, my goal is to continue to increase the resources we can offer and make them more accessible to all the different groups of creative people in our district, and develop relevant programming that has a concrete impact on artists and arts organizations’ growth.

That is great that you can offer support to the smaller arts organizations and galleries in the region that are doing the heavy lifting of culture production. They deserve it!

We recently started offering small stipends to participating venues to compensate folks for their time and effort in coordinating their space for the art walk. I’ve aimed to balance bringing in older organizations with newer ones to build awareness about the rich history of our district, and where its future is headed. A few artists, like Michelle Talibah of New Door Creative on the 1600 block of St. Paul, still have a gallery space in their home.

New Door Creative participated in the July Art Walk for the first time, and it was lovely to have a space that’s been in operation for 15 years join us for new programming. Similarly, Galerie Myrtis, founded in 2006 and specializing in 20th and 21st-century art made by African American artists, is joining the September 24th art walk with a new group exhibit titled Somethin’ To Say. I’m hoping they will see new audiences during the evening.

For the August art walk, The Cork Factory, a long-standing live/work studio building that has done much in shaping the trajectory of the arts district, joined us by opening a few of their studios, like Jordan Faye Contemporary. It was also encouraging to see Gallery CA in City Arts 1, a staple in past AllOverStreet art walks, join us in August with the show Necessary Steps.

 

What about newer spaces?

I was excited to invite galleries like MONO Practice (although their schedules haven’t allowed them to participate), and Waller Gallery, creative retail shops like Tightfisted Fashion, maker spaces like the Baltimore Jewelry Center, and multidisciplinary hubs that are finding creative ways to get involved like Motor House and Blue Light Junction, a natural dye garden, studio, and education space.

It seems like a great opportunity to cross-pollinate and share audiences between different spaces and genres.

The art walk is really an opportunity for venues to co-promote each other with an abundance of art and life happening on the street, in public. For example, The Parkway had their reopening during the last art walk on August 27th with a screening of Candyman at 8 p.m., so art walk attendees could attend art walk earlier in the evening, and attend a movie later, which drew more audience members to multiple spaces. For the next art walk on September 24th, North Avenue Market has their grand reopening on the same date with free games, an updated menu, and a live band. I’m hoping folks will stop by for dinner or listen to music after stopping by a gallery. Rapid Lemon Productions in Motor House’s Black Box Theater also has a powerful play, Rachel, at 8 p.m.!

If you run a space in the arts district, and you are reading this, please feel free to reach out to me at mdwyer@centralbaltimore.org to connect about future art walk programming. We are taking a break after September to focus on Open Studios Tours, a mural tour, and a series of Holiday Markets, but we’ll be back in the spring I’m sure!

What are the health protocols around COVID-19 that visitors need to follow?

We are requiring that everyone wear a mask for indoor events, even if that person is vaccinated, to help stop the spread of the Delta variant. For outdoor spaces, we are encouraging masks and asking that folks who are not vaccinated wear them.

 

Alma Cocina Latina in Station North
Alma Cocina Latina in Station North
Baltimore Print Studios
Baltimore Print Studios
Baltimore Print Studios

As the newest person at the helm of Station North A&E, and now hosted within the Central Baltimore Partnership, can you talk about how the organization’s mission and role have evolved?

I work as a part-time Program Coordinator initially hired to organize art walks, working in tandem with my colleague and musician, Abby Becker, our Ynot Lot Program Coordinator. I also hold a practice as a freelance illustrator, a Teaching Artist with Young Audiences, and an Engagement Coordinator with Signal Station North at Neighborhood Design Center. These overlapping roles, with support from Abby and my supervisor, Jack Danna, the Director of Commercial Revitalization at CBP, allow me to play the role of a connector and cheerleader in the district.

However, due to the growing potential for more programming in the Station North Arts District, we just applied for an NEA Operations Grant to hire a full-time Arts District Manager, who would manage the Station North Arts District as a program under Central Baltimore Partnership, and focus on a broader set of tasks outside of events, including core program development, public space activation, communications, grant writing, partnership engagement, professional development for artists and arts businesses, and affordable arts spaces.

The Central Baltimore Partnership seems like the perfect hosting organization for Statio North A&E! They do so much for small, creative businesses in the area, I am curious about the changes this has brought.

Even though I participated in many SNAD-based programs throughout the past decade, I have only been staff for the past year when it’s been under CBP. That being said, I’ll do my best to speak to how the mission and role of SNAD has evolved from my experience thus far. Ultimately, having SNAD under the auspices of Central Baltimore Partnership makes us sustainable by marrying the successful community development work of CBP with the cultural arts programming of the Arts District.

CBP’s track record of deploying resources and tools to initiate larger-scale capital projects and smaller scale neighborhood based projects will help bring those resources to our artist community. This work is grounded in CBP’s approach to community development, including CBP’s 5-year Front Center and Equity Plan, Neil Muldrow Business Development Fund around Commercial Corridor Revitalization, the Community Spruce-Up Program, and the newly funded Weinberg Foundation GLOW framework plan for East Baltimore Midway and Greenmount Avenue.

I think this makes so much sense and you should be full-time!

Looking back at how integral CBP was in laying the groundwork for visible, place-based arts programming along North Avenue, this integration feels more like a coming home, after years of deep collaboration.

For example, you can see CBP’s impact in the high demand for programming at the Ynot Lot, where a Spruce Up grant in 2014 granted the Station North Arts & Entertainment district the ability to host free events for the public in a green, accessible space, with an entire shipping container of event equipment anyone can use for free. In the last three years, The Ynot Lot has hosted over 120 free events, and during the pandemic it was a crucial outdoor asset for cultural arts programmers.

That’s so cool! I think there always was some sort of oblique real estate relationships between SNAD and developers, etc. over the years, so it’s good to actually put structure around this natural partnership to elevate the entire area.

Merging with Central Baltimore Partnership allows SNAD to have a broader perspective in terms of who our audience is in addition to the arts community. For example, on the east side of the arts district, in Greenmount West, you can see CBP’s impact from the sprouting of connected gardens and parks from the northeast end to the southwest end, to the colorful texture of the Guildford Street Bridge, all in partnership with the Greenmount West Community Association and several other local organizations.

These community-driven efforts turned paved, empty, or overgrown surfaces into space for neighborhood block parties, public art projects, birthday parties, holiday festivals, street corners to grow food—all things that foster a sense of pride and ownership for residents, whether they have an arts practice or not. The integration of SNAD with CBP encourages more collaboration between quality of life improvements we all benefit from, like increased green space, better health services, access to healthy food, home ownership support, and the things artists need to survive and thrive as well, like the preservation of affordable artist spaces.

Tell me more about the Central Baltimore Partnership.

Central Baltimore Partnership has a long history of sharing tools and resources. They are experts at connecting small businesses and artists to technical assistance, potential space, grant applications, and renovations for safe use through the Arts Space Technical Assistance program at Neighborhood Design Center (NDC). For example, CBP recently secured 200K in a Maryland State SEED capital grant in partnership with MICA to support the implementation of NDC’s concept design plan to build out the new natural dye garden, studio, alternative color lab, and education facility, Blue Light Junction, founded by Kenya Miles, on 209 McAllister Street.

CBP’s Neil Muldrow Fund has aided 42 businesses and craftspeople (56 percent of which are Black- and women-owned) with $1.1 million in grants to support expanded operations. This success is playing a critical role in activating long-vacant storefronts in the Arts District with makers, co-working and incubation hubs, traditional retail, gallery, and performance space mixed with food and entertainment.

 

Outside The Motor House
The Motor House
The Motor House
Motor House gallery
Motor House gallery

I am assuming this will help a lot with many of the funding problems that so many arts organizations struggle with.

Bringing SNAD under CBP creates new opportunities to consider: How can we not only offer funded programming and employment opportunities for artists, but support them in securing a stable, thoughtfully designed, affordable place to make work? We know there are dozens of artists making work in their homes right now, so we’re also asking: How can we help promote and sell their art to develop their business? Overall, SNAD’s integration with CBP gives Station North enhanced access to more stable funding, financial and technical resources, and connects us to the many diverse collaborations CBP has nurtured over the years.

That is wonderful. And I should mention that BmoreArt’s Connect + Collect space has participated in two of these art walks so far and it’s been a very productive and special experience. We appreciate it.

SNAD is thrilled to join the small but mighty staff that is Central Baltimore Partnership, and look forward to connecting with artists, residents, businesses, and neighborhood leaders throughout the district in the coming months to discuss how this integration can best serve and benefit our creative community.

What is your vision for the future of Station North and Baltimore’s arts ecosystem?

This is a tough question that belongs to a lot of different people! The mayor’s task force on cultural arts put together a fairly comprehensive vision for the future of Baltimore’s arts ecosystem for the first 100 days of office. I might refer back to that document to get a longer-term perspective from folks with more history and experience, who are centering sustainability in their vision—I think that’s key in Baltimore.

I’d love to see a larger recurring line item in the city’s budget for cultural arts programming that gets distributed throughout neighborhoods and makes intentional partnerships with community centers that know their residents, along with a robust and evolving Cultural Arts Plan that makes an effort to reach intergenerational, poor and working-class families, with a focus on multicultural, multilingual programming, mental health, physical health, arts business development, and youth leadership development, with paid community-based arts leadership to connect to Baltimore city residents in an effective way. There are definitely arts-based organizations that are already doing this work in the city, and it’s powerful!

So much of it is embedded in daily life. I think that’s what makes it really special and place-specific as well, but sometimes it means the art is overlooked.

A question I often find myself asking is: How can we continue to thread arts integration into the effort to build stable, healthy lives in a city with massive, historic disinvestments and segregation, where the first thing on many people’s minds is not the new public art project going up down the street? How can we balance the need for artists to attract profit, and preserve affordable spaces for everyone?

In the work of Creative Placemaking (or keeping), there will always be an evolving tension between attracting new talent and business, and preserving cultural legacies. Our job is to fill the gaps left from a market-driven economy to hold space for less commercial arts activity, and provide tools for cultural programmers who want to organize or professionalize within their neighborhood so everyone can benefit from the quality of life improvements artists have poured sweat equity into for years.

Ultimately I hope for an arts district that can balance the more commercial needs of small arts businesses, landlords, artist careers, independent performance venues, with programming that benefits our stable homeowners, potential art patrons, and our more vulnerable residents. The layering of programming and resources at multiple levels with different audiences, with a focus on those who have been historically disinvested, builds a healthier arts ecosystem.

Everything you’re saying sounds great, but the how and the funding and the timing are hard to figure out. How can we do this better than we have in the past, especially given that the real estate values in the region are changing so quickly?

One need that I see is a stronger network of financial and technical support for artists to grow or strengthen their business in a collective way with support from groups like the Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy (BRED) and Baltimore Creatives Accelerator Network (BCAN). The pro-bono legal support that Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (MDVLA) and entrepreneurial support Impact Hub provides is a game-changer for many artists, but we can always grow that network to meet the demand. I think about extending the organizing efforts we saw during the pandemic to make them recurring, like direct artist support via an annual basic income for practicing artists, or more operations and capital grants to new arts businesses to initiate leases in vacant properties, or subsidy incentives for landlords to bring buildings up to code for healthier live/work arts uses that doesn’t make rent skyrocket.

I really think the most valuable thing you can offer an artist is an audience, especially one that is interested in collecting! Without that, all the advice in the world won’t help. These art walks are helping to develop an audience and community around the arts. Perhaps we can all work together to educate and entice them into becoming new art collectors?

Great point—artists need art patrons to buy their work or fund their projects to continue to make a living as an artist. There’s a range of galleries in the district that function as support systems for emerging artists, hosting artists’ first solo exhibits, showing retrospectives of established artists with the goal to sell work. Creating connections between these establishments for the artists, as well as attracting new audiences to see artwork in person and consider becoming a collector, is certainly one function of the art walks. For example, if uplifting ICA Baltimore’s Flat Files program leads to more sales in an evening and brings more followers to that program and the gallery at large, that’s one successful outcome.

These things will take years of fierce advocacy and funding to shift, and a stable, smart, creative cohort of artists and arts advocates to make happen. More than anything, my vision is to see that kind of organizing strengthened and sustained for our district and our city at large.

 

Photo Essay: The venues are different each time depending on each schedule and capacity, but participants in the July 4th Station North Shines Art Walk (and in these photos) include:
Motor House Gallery @motorhousebaltimore
The Crown Backbar Gallery @thecrownbaltimore
Baltimore Jewelry Center @baltimorejewelrycenter
Full Circle Gallery @fullcirclefineart
Connect + Collect @connect_collect
New Door Creative @newdoorcreativefineart
Jordan Faye Contemporary @jordanfayeblock
Gallery CA @galleryCA
Artist and Craftsman @artistcraftsman_baltimore
Tightfisted Fashion @tightfistedfashion
Station North Books @stationnorthbooks
Baltimore Print Studios @baltimoreprints
No Land Beyond @nolandbaltimore

 

Tightfisted Fashion
Tightfisted Fashion
Tightfisted Fashion
Tightfisted Fashion
Tightfisted Fashion
Tightfisted Fashion
Tightfisted Fashion
Tightfisted Fashion
Tightfisted Fashion
Tightfisted Fashion
Tightfisted Fashion
Outside the Baltimore Jewelry Center
Gallery at The Baltimore Jewelry Center
Gallery at The Baltimore Jewelry Center
Gallery at The Baltimore Jewelry Center
Baltimore Jewelry Center
Outside New Door Creative
New Door Creative
New Door Creative
Outdoor Concert
Landis Expandis
Sculpture by Elliot Doughtie with painting by René Treviño in background at Connect+Collect
Plant sculpture by Phaan Howng at Connect+Collect
Antonio McAfee at Connect+Collect
Print by Oletha DeVane at Connect+Collect
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