Baltimore News: Bedford Leaving the BMA, the Legendary Royal Theatre, ‘The Block’ Fights Back

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Looking Back at Infinite Futures

This week’s news includes: Hogan not running for Senate, Christopher Bedford is the new director at SFMOMA, Safe Streets program is dangerous work, a profile on Rat Film filmmaker Theo Anthony, Delali Dzirasa’s tech service company creates a digital museum for NMAAHC, Nari Ward’s Hearse sculpture coming to Baltimore, Baltimore City Schools not included in MD State budget surplus spending, and more reporting from Baltimore Magazine, Baltimore, The Art Newspaper, and other local and independent news sources.



Soul of the City
by Lawrence Burney
Published February 9 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: In 1961, Doris Hill took her six-year-old son Guy, my grandfather, from their home at the Lexington Terrace low-rise apartments in West Baltimore to nearby Pennsylvania Avenue’s main attraction, the already legendary Royal Theatre. Guy wasn’t completely sure of the occasion, but judging by the venue and what he’d known about it up until that point, he figured they had come for an early evening movie. For all of its fame of being a premiere Chitlin’ Circuit music hall for the first half of the 20th century, it’s rarely mentioned anymore that the Royal also served as a community cinema. But when young Guy entered the main theater that night and saw a stage in place of the big projection screen he expected, he realized he was in for something different than a motion picture. As he and my great-grandmother settled into their seats, the first person who came to the microphone startled him. It was the evening’s emcee, who, in comedic fashion, had walked to center stage dressed in a suit jacket, white shirt, black tie, socks, shoes—and boxer shorts. Part of his bit was a joke about how someone had broken into his dressing room and stolen his pants. Even at six, my grandfather still recalls he was a little shocked by how crass it all seemed. But soon after warming up the crowd with a few laughs, the host introduced the headliner for the night, a Chicago singer named Gene Chandler, who was on his way to becoming a huge star throughout the country that year.

Guy didn’t recognize Chandler when he was introduced, but for months he’d been singing his soon-to-be chart-topping doo-wop single, “Duke of Earl,” which he’d heard over and over on the radio and everywhere in his neighborhood.

Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl
Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl

As I walk through this world
Nothing can stop the Duke of Earl

In a sultry voice in front of a packed audience, Chandler and his band, The Dukays, harmonized their pursuit of a young woman they’d like to make “the duchess” of their imaginary royal world. Just a couple of months later, “Duke of Earl” would peak at number one on the Hot 100 charts and stay there for three weeks. Once Guy’s first-grade brain was done computing that he could now place a face to the hit song, he watched the performance in wide-eyed amazement. The evening became a destiny-shaping experience.



Mark Bedford (courtesy BMA)

BMA Director Christopher Bedford to leave museum in June
by Marcus Dieterle
Published February 9 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Baltimore Museum of Art Director Christopher Bedford will leave the museum June 3, after nearly six years with the institution, to lead the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).

Bedford will replace Neal Benezra, who resigned as director of the SFMOMA last year. After opening its expanded museum in May 2016, the SFMOMA nearly tripled its gallery space and now spans 45,000 square feet.

The San Francisco museum has a $53.4 million budget, 360 staff members, and a $500 million endowment — all larger than the Baltimore Museum of Art, which in 2021 had a $16.9 million budget, 182 staff members, and a $197.6 million endowment. Neither institution has a deficit, the New York Times reported. Anne Brown, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Museum of Art, said “this was entirely Chris’s decision.”

And in 2019, the museum announced its 2020 Vision, a year of exhibitions and programs dedicated to women artists, and $2 million to purchase art made by women. The move garnered an array of responses, including in a piece by BmoreArt. Staff at the Baltimore Museum of Art moved to unionize last fall, citing concerns about safety during the coronavirus pandemic, pay equity and more. Workers at the Walters Art Museum launched a similar unionization effort at their museum last summer. Baltimore Museum of Art workers have called on Bedford to voluntarily recognize their union, but Bedford has so far declined.

Also: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Names New Director: Christopher Bedford, the leader and sometimes lightning rod at the Baltimore Museum of Art, will fill the position left by Neal Benezra, who resigned a year ago, New York Times



Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club in the old Gayety Theatre, a landmark on the Baltimore Block. (Google Streetview)

Club owners and gubernatorial candidate say “backroom deals” behind crackdown on The Block
by Fern Shen
Published February 7 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Club owners in Baltimore’s adult entertainment zone say the current crackdown on The Block is nothing more than a land grab by developers – and lawmakers who are in their pocket.
Not true, says Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, who has sponsored a bill to close the raunchy row of bars and strip joints at 10 p.m.

He says the bill’s only purpose is to curb illegal activity in a crime hot spot that has sucked up more than its share of scarce police resources.

John Sachs, president of the East Baltimore Street Association, doesn’t buy it.

“This is about the price of real estate,” says Sachs, an owner of Club Chez Joey, pointing to past attempts to close the bars and move them to other parts of the city.

“The city was offering pennies on the dollar. Like 40 cents on the dollar,” he said, going on to point the finger at Ferguson and Delegate Brooke Lierman, who also represents the 46th legislative district where The Block is located.



Baltimore-based ‘Fearless’ creates searchable museum for NMAAHC
by Nadine Matthews
Published February 6 in The AFRO

Excerpt: “It was quite a long bidding process,” CEO Delali Dzirasa tells the the AFRO about his tech service company, Fearless’ efforts to be chosen to create a digital Searchable Museum for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The NMAAHC is the country’s first and only museum exclusively dedicated to documenting African-American history, culture and life. “It was almost three years in the making,” Dzirasa explained.

“We won about October of 2020, worked on it since, and just released it,” he stated. Dzirasa’s company Fearless, won the lucrative (one of many in the company’s 12-year history) contract  to create the online vehicle to complement the in-person “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition. After finally winning the bid to do the project, it took more than a year to bring it to fruition.

The Searchable Museum is bursting with all the images and information you would find touring the physical museum itself, and aims to elicit  the same kind of powerful emotional response that an in-person visit to the museum does. The website also provides learning opportunities through additional digital resources. The Slavery and Freedom exhibition, which the Searchable Museum website parallels, encompasses over 400 years of Black history, starting from 1400 through Reconstruction.



The filmmaker Theo Anthony at his woodshop and studio in the Catskills, New York. —Photography by Jesse Dittmar

Theo Anthony’s Life is as Curious, Open-Minded, and Unpredictable as His Films
by Max Weiss
Published February 8 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: Filmmaker Theo Anthony hates the idea that his documentaries should “dig deep.” It’s an assumption that is made about his work—and the work of lots of nonfiction filmmakers, for that matter. But the metaphor bugs him.

“It kind of maps onto the language of oil extraction,” he says. ”That you gotta drill beneath the surface, you gotta dig deeper, you gotta really frack your subject to find a visible truth.”

Instead, he likes his films to be open-minded, curious, to cast a wide net. “What I try to do is understand the system or the process,” he explains. “Not necessarily looking at any one thing and squeezing it as tight as possible, but seeing how that thing interacts with other things. I try to understand the context.”

In short, Anthony has an endless fascination with the world and how it works. This fascination has served him well: His first two feature-length films, Rat Film and All Light, Everywhere—freewheeling, intellectual, and experimental documentaries, both set in Baltimore—have a cult following and have been critically revered. (The New Yorker film critic Richard Brody told me his films have “empathetic curiosity…bold imagination, and cinematic X-ray vision.”)

But Anthony says that filmmaking, which he loves, is not necessarily his primary passion. “I just think it’s the best way for me to learn more about the world,” he says with a shrug. “That’s at the root of it. [Filmmaking] has been a means to an end.”



Artists highlighted by Blvck Door.

Blvck Door wants to help BIPOC artists bridge the network gap
by Donte Kirby
Published February 3 in Baltimore

Excerpt: Medical illustrator Iman Carr and copywriter Shakeel Alexandermet as artists in the predominantly white city of Buffalo. In that city, they said, most artists are working on their passion projects for free and doing other jobs to get by. But if you did happen to be getting paid for your creative work, nine times out of 10, you were white.

Carr and Alexander wanted to change that.

Thus was born Blvck Door, an online platform to connect creatives of color to employers. Artists can see what opportunities are out there, and be paid fairly for their talent. The goal is to foster an equitable and diverse workforce by giving voice and opportunity to BIPOC artists in smaller places that aren’t oversaturated by huge competition, and where creative jobs aren’t as abundant. It’s pairing a paycheck to their passions.

“There are medical illustrators that work in marketing and all these different companies, but it’s so small and so siloed, it really depends on who you know,” Carr told She knows from experience — “coming from that background and not having a network of people that looked like me or I could look to for certain experiences.”



Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) delivered his eighth and final State of the State address last week from the Old Senate Chamber in Annapolis. Photo from the Executive Office of the Governor.

Hogan Closes Door on U.S. Senate Bid; Will Evaluate 2024 Options Next Year
by Bruce DePuyt
Published February 8 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Seeking to end persistent rumors that he will attempt to unseat Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D), Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) declared firmly on Tuesday that he will not run for the U.S. Senate this year. Hogan’s statement followed months of wooing by national party leaders. They saw Hogan as the only Maryland Republican capable of running a competitive race against the state’s first-term junior senator. At a minimum, a Hogan campaign would have forced Democrats to spend resources defending a seat normally regarded as safe.

Speaking to reporters at a State House news conference, the governor said he intended to spend his last 12 months in office focused squarely on running state government, without the distractions of a campaign.

“When I pledged to the people of Maryland that I was going to give this job as governor everything I’ve got, every single day that I have been given, I meant it.” he said. “That commitment is far more important to me than any political campaign.”



Baltimore City students protest school underfunding in 2020. Screenshot/TRNN

Right-Wing Media Attacks Baltimore City Schools, and Gov. Larry Hogan Refuses to Fund Them
by Brandon Soderberg and Jaisal Noor
Published February 9 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has boasted about a state budget surplus, will not include funding for Baltimore City Public Schools that elected officials expected and that studies show would benefit the district.

That’s according to Hogan’s proposed 2023 budget, which increases statewide school funding by $260.2 million (a 3.5% budget increase) but specifically notes that it will not be funding the Education Effort Adjustment component of years-in-the-making education reform, which intends to provide specific funding to the state’s two majority-Black school districts, Baltimore City and Prince George’s County.

Last week, State Delegate for Baltimore City Marlon Amprey highlighted language in Hogan’s budget that explicitly said it would not be considering the Education Effort Adjustment: “Hogan took over $125 million from Black and Brown children and is now touting this stolen money as a surplus. We promised over $125 million to Baltimore City and Prince Georges last year with Kirwan and he just took it out of his budget,” he tweeted.



How Nari Ward’s hearse installation went from the Whitney Biennial to a permanent home (with a detour via partial destruction)
by Jacoba Urist
Published February 8 in The Art Newspaper

Excerpt: Nari Ward’s monumental sculpture Peace Keeper—which was first exhibited at the 1995 Whitney Biennial, sat partially destroyed for decades and was then re-created in 2020—was acquired by the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) last month.

Among the artist’s most significant works, the sculptural installation features a cleaved, burnt-out hearse, tarred in black grease and adorned with peacock feathers, within a metal cage; discarded mufflers surround the vehicle and are suspended overhead. At the time of its debut, Peace Keeper—whose title derives from United Nations peacekeeping missions—was a standout of the Biennial, organised by curator Klaus Kertess. New York Times art critic Holland Cutter hailed it one of the show’s “most arresting sights”, possessing “spiritual grandeur”. Known for fashioning sculptures from objects scavenged around his Harlem neighbourhood, the then 31-year-old artist had recently completed his seminal Amazing Grace (1993), an installation of over 300 discarded baby strollers, a requiem for Black communities ravaged by the drug and AIDS epidemics.



Baltimore’s Safe Streets has been good for the community but can be dangerous work
hosted by Juana Summers
Released February 6 on NPR

Excerpt: There’s a funeral tomorrow in Baltimore. It’s for DaShawn McGrier, who was shot and killed last month. McGrier worked as a violence interrupter for a program called Safe Streets. He was not killed for his work. He was the victim of violence in a city where there have been more than 300 homicides each year since 2015. The majority of those have been gun-related.

Header: Christopher Bedford at the Baltimore Museum of Art, photo Chris Myers, NYT

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