Baltimore News: Changes to the Baltimore Bookfest, Looking Back on The Wire, & Confederate Monuments Move

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This week’s news includes: Everything’s coming up John Waters, Enoch Pratt workers consider unionization, David Simon’s blog post about Sean Suiter, and more reporting from Baltimore Fishbowl, The New York Times, The AFRO, and other local and independent news sources.


‘They Conflated “The Wire” With Reality’
by Gioncarlo Valentine
Published June 13 in The New York Times

Excerpt: I was born and raised in Baltimore. I was in middle school when “The Wire” was made — it filmed near McCulloh Homes and also sometimes near Harlem Park, where my school was located. Back then everybody thought, wow, this is Baltimore’s moment. It was a very exciting experience for the city.

I was too young to watch “The Wire” in middle school. When I saw it in college, I thought the acting was really wonderful. Wendell Pierce, who played Bunk Moreland, is one of my favorite actors, and as a queer person, I thought Michael K. Williams’s Omar was really beautiful — how gentle he was with his partner in contrast to how ferocious he seemed in the world. That kind of stuff was stellar.

But there was very little about the interior life of Baltimore, and little celebration of any aspect of the city. It showed only this flattened idea of Baltimore as: drugs, poverty, criminality, corruption, violence. When you’re watching television, as a Black person, you want to see Blackness rendered with humanity, rendered as you know it in the world. I don’t believe that the show succeeded in showing that.

But I was curious about how the community felt. Who liked it, and why? What has it been like for you 20 years after the show was filmed in your neighborhood? What did “The Wire” do — or not do — for Baltimore?



Baltimore Book Festival likely to move from Inner Harbor, BOPA chief says
by Ed Gunts
Published June 15 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Artscape isn’t the only city festival that’s getting a makeover under its producer, the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts (BOPA).

During a meeting with City Council members this month, BOPA CEO Donna Drew Sawyer said the annual Baltimore Book Festival won’t continue in its most recent form and its days solely at the Inner Harbor are over.

BOPA — which serves as the “events producer” for the city of Baltimore, according to its website — had previously disclosed that the book festival would not be produced this year or next. The disclosure came at the same time BOPA said it won’t be producing the Artscape or Light City events this year either, but that Artscape will come back in 2023.

Sawyer, the agency’s CEO since July 2018, used part of a recent meeting with the council’s Ways and Means Committee to elaborate on her vision for the book festival. Her main point was that she doesn’t envision it occurring in a single location, as it has in the past.



Mayor Brandon Scott agrees to send Baltimore’s four Confederate monuments to Los Angeles for a museum exhibit
by Ed Gunts
Published June 10 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Baltimore’s four Confederate monuments are headed to California after all.

Mayor Brandon Scott said he has approved a request to lend the statues for display in a Los Angeles museum exhibit called MONUMENTS, which is being organized by an organization known as LAXART and is scheduled to open in the fall of 2023.

“We’re going to be sending them,” he said. “All of them.”

The approval comes six months after Scott turned down LAXART’s request to borrow the statues, even though other cities had agreed to make theirs available.

The mayor said he initially had questions about the loan request but his concerns have been addressed.

“We had to work through some things, but we decided to do it,” he said.

When the exhibit is over, the statues will come back to Baltimore and the city again will have to decide what to do with them, he said.  “We’ll see what happens after that.”



Sean Suiter
by David Simon
Published June 14 in The Audacity of Despair (blog)

Excerpt: Years ago, when saddled with the task of scripting a specific historical moment, I was confronted by the reality that film narrative is not the medium for open debate, that the camera must in the end be in one place at one time, that the actors must say their lines, and that a singular version of every moment will be delivered.

The task at hand was a miniseries on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln – it didn’t get greenlit, alas – and the moment involved the last words of John Wilkes Booth, dying outside a burning Virginia barn, shot by a Union cavalryman, paralyzed, asking to have his hands raised and shown to him. There, upon viewing the mitts that had killed the greatest American president, the assassin declared, just before expiring, “Useless. Useless.”

Or so the gathered Union soldiers all heard. At the point of dying, Booth could not have serviced history more perfectly than to reflect on his own vile act and pronounce it failure, encompassing everything we ourselves wish to declare. In a single word, “useless” offers clarity, insight and a transcendent verdict.



John Waters, an Auteur of Trash, Would Like to Thank the Academy
by Adam Nagourney
Published June 11 in the New York Times

Excerpt: John Waters was leading a delegation from the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures — in for the week from Los Angeles — on a tour of his home of 32 years, cluttered with film artifacts and kitschy curios and tucked behind trees on a quiet corner five miles from this city’s waterfront.

There was much to see: the electric chair from his 1974 dark comedy, “Female Trouble” in the entryway. A birth certificate for Divine, the 300-pound cross-dresser who played the “filthiest person alive” in “Pink Flamingos,” hanging in a basement room piled with mementos. The mimeographed poster for the 1966 premiere of “Roman Candles,” retrieved from a stack of boxes.

“Hand me that leg of lamb,” Waters asked an assistant as two curators and the museum director followed him up the narrow stairs, through a doorway and into his cramped two-room home office — one room for “my writing and thinking” and one for, as he put it, selling. He was offering for consideration a favorite artifact from his moviemaking career: the (rubber) leg of lamb that Kathleen Turner used as a murder weapon in a particularly gruesome scene from “Serial Mom.”



John Waters retrospective ‘Pope of Trash’ will open in Los Angeles in 2023
by Ed Gunts
Published June 13 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Writer and filmmaker John Waters has a museum exhibition opening in Baltimore in November. Now he has a museum exhibition opening next year in Los Angeles as well.

“Pope of Trash” is the title of an exhibition that will open in the summer of 2023 at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, the $484 million attraction that debuted last September on Wilshire Boulevard as part of Museum Row on the city’s Miracle Mile.

Owned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that awards the Oscars, it’s the largest museum in the United States devoted to the arts, sciences and artists of moviemaking.

In the works since 2020, the “Pope of Trash” exhibition will be a retrospective of Waters’ career as a filmmaker and his impact on the industry, which has provided subject matter for some of his books and movies.

“I’m over the show business moon on this one!” Waters said in an email message today. “A long way from Baltimore premiers in church halls but couldn’t have gotten to the Academy Museum without them.”



A note from our editor in chief Kimi Yoshino
by Kimi Yoshino
Published June 14 in The Baltimore Banner

Excerpt: Good morning, Baltimore! Sorry, I couldn’t resist — we truly feel like busting out in song. The Baltimore Banner launches today and we’re excited about what that means for local journalism.

This day has been two years in the making, born out of founder Stewart Bainum’s commitment to boosting the local news ecosystem in this city and, eventually, the state.

The same time I first met Stewart last October, The Atlantic published a story on the devastating effect Alden Global Capital was having on local news across the country. The hedge fund has been scooping up storied newspapers, like The Baltimore Sun and the Chicago Tribune, and, as reporter McKay Coppin wrote, offering buyouts and reducing newsrooms “to the size of a Chipotle.”

Frustrated by the state of news and armed with a sense of purpose, I quit my job as managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, moved across the country, and joined Stewart and CEO Imtiaz Patel. We know that there’s already great journalism in Baltimore and other local outlets, but we believe that more is better. There are too many stories in this city going uncovered.



Unsatisfied with agency that puts on Artscape, City Council members prepare to temporarily withhold $196,000 from its fiscal year 2023 budget
by Ed Gunts
Published June 14 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: The agency that puts on Artscape and other city events is going to start off the new budget year with less money from Baltimore’s government than it requested.

Baltimore City Council Member Eric Costello, chair of the City Council’s Ways and Means Committee, said council members are planning to withhold $196,000 in funding that the agency’s CEO sought for the budget year that begins July 1, until it gets satisfactory answers to questions that council members have raised about the agency’s operations and fulfillment of contractual obligations.

The figure is based on two times $98,000 – the amount the City Council allocated in each of the past two years for the Artscape festival and other in-person events that were never held by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts (BOPA), the quasi-public agency that serves as the city’s arts council, film office and producer of events.

The decision to withhold funds was spelled out today towards the end of a second budget meeting this month with BOPA’s CEO, Donna Drew Sawyer.

See also:

Baltimore City Council committee questions BOPA head over Artscape, use of funds, staff changes and more
by Ed Gunts
Published June 14 in Baltimore Fishbowl



Enoch Pratt Free Library workers call for recognition of employee union
by AFRO Staff
Published June 11 in The AFRO

Excerpt: Workers of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system in Baltimore are now calling for employees to unionize.

On June 8 the Pratt Workers United (PWU) attended an EPFL board meeting and demanded union recognition for Baltimore City’s library workers. The group is made up of a mix of part-time and full-time workers, and started in early 2021.

“We deserve a voice in all decisions that affect us.We deserve good wages and benefits for all, including part-time employees,” said the union supporters, in their mission statement. “We deserve to have our concerns about our health, safety, and general working conditions taken seriously. We deserve freedom from racism, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, classism, ageism, and harassment of all kinds.”



Baltimore sheriff’s no-show comes amid calls to end “traumatizing” eviction practices
by Fern Shen
Published June 15 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Every year as part of the Baltimore budget process, the head of each department troops over to City Hall and stands before the City Council to defend their budget.

But last week, when the sheriff’s office’s turn came, only a major and a captain were on hand to respond to questions from the Council, including tough ones about eviction procedures that tenants say are unnecessarily cruel and unconstitutional.

Eviction notices are not being left on peoples’ doors, but in some cases in mail rooms or other building entrances, tenant advocates have reported. Tenants calling the sheriff’s office to find out their eviction dates are being told to call elsewhere.

The upshot for tenants, they say, could be disastrous – not knowing the status of their case until it is too late to do anything about it.

“Where is the sheriff?” asked Councilman Mark Conway, who chaired the June 6 hearing.

“He couldn’t make it tonight,” Major Jason Gruzs replied, offering no further explanation.



Header Image: Artscape/Instagram

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