Baltimore News: AFRAM Festival, The Helmand, Bruce Springsteen

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This week’s news includes:  AFRAM headliners announced, Justin Johnson wins Preakness Art of Racing competition, Baltimore Magazine’s thrift store guide, the Boss is back in town, and more reporting from Baltimore Fishbowl, Baltimore Beat, Baltimore Banner, Baltimore Magazine, and other local and independent news sources.

Header Image: Bruce Springsteen at CFG Bank Arena. Photography by Christopher Myers



The Isley Brothers perform with The Roots in Memphis in 2018. (Greg Campbell/Getty Images for Tennessee Tourism)

AFRAM Festival announces headliners — and the debut of Baltimore Club Music Day
by Taji Burress
Published April 11 in The Baltimore Banner

Excerpt: Now waaaaaiiiit a minute: The AFRAM Festival announced The Isley Brothers and Ty Dolla $ign as the the headliners for its 46th annual event at a news conference on Tuesday. Other renowned artists who are set to perform at Druid Hill Park during the Juneteenth weekend celebration include Eric Bellinger, Kid Capri, DJ Spinderella and Maryland’s own Tamar Braxton.

The AFRAM Festival, which debuted in 1976, is a celebration of African American culture, honoring food, music, art and crafts. Now the East Coast-based cultural arts fair is one of the largest in the nation.

Nearly 200,000 people attended AFRAM last year to see performers like The O’Jays, Le’Andria Johnson and El DeBarge.



Justin Johnson's artwork "The Face of Victory" wins the second annual Preakness Art of Racing contest. Image by Justin Johnson.

‘The Face of Victory’ wins second annual Preakness Art of Racing contest
by Aliza Worthington
Published April 11 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Justin Johnson is the winner of the second annual Preakness Art of Racing contest for his original illustration titled “The Face of Victory.”

The winning piece depicts a horse’s face head-on in the colors of the Maryland flag. A white Preakness trophy adorns the face, and yellow Black Eyed Susan flowers frame its muzzle.

“This recognition leaves room for more opportunities to come my way, more job opportunities in this field, and more connections both personal and professional to establish and cultivate,” Johnson said in a statement. “Winning the competition brings me that much closer to achieving my professional goals where I can thrive in a career doing what I love and what brings me happiness.”



If These Walls Could Sing: The art-chitectural works of Alyssa Dennis
by Ed Schrader
Published April 11 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Behind interdisciplinary artist Alyssa Dennis, tall windows on the fourteenth floor of One Charles Center reveal Baltimore’s downtown officescape, full of an eclectic array of buildings showcasing different eras of the city’s history.

Dennis points to this very architecture and the built environment as being her source of inspiration in creating her mixed media pieces, which offer depictions of buildings that at first strike you like haunted blueprints ebbing forth with simultaneous shades of what was, what is, and what can be.

Quinn Evans Architecture and Design Firm showcased Dennis’s work in a solo exhibition at their Baltimore headquarters, in conjunction with Maryland Art Place.



The Art and Craft of the New Journalism: Q&A with Mark Bowden, author of ‘Life Sentence’
by Mark Wadley
Published April 11 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: With Life Sentence: The Brief and Tragic Career of Baltimore’s Deadliest Gang Leader, veteran journalist Mark Bowden—author of thirteen books including Black Hawk Down—returns to his hometown of Baltimore to dig into the city’s campaign against gang violence. With near-unprecedented access to police interview footage, FBI files, and court documents, Bowden focuses on the investigation and trial of Trained To Go, the Sandtown-Winchester gang led by Montana “Tana” Barronette, who received two life sentences at the age of 21 for his involvement in at least twenty killings.

Working with the US Attorney’s materials and his own extensive interviews with detectives, community members, witnesses, informants, and researchers, Bowden develops a fascinating crime narrative featuring a cast of complex, charismatic characters, with Tana as its troubling central figure. Making a case for the near-inevitability of Tana’s slide down the “greased path” into violent crime and imprisonment without denying or minimizing his brutal actions, Bowden outlines a damning indictment of Baltimore’s treatment of its most precarious constituents, writing, “gang violence and white indifference are two sides of the same coin,” and arguing for massive investment in public services and opportunities as critical steps toward ending the self-perpetuating pattern of poverty and violence.



—Photography by Christopher Myers

Photos: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band Rock CFG Bank Arena Opening
by Ron Cassie
Published April 10 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: Bruce Springsteen brought his E Street Band to Baltimore over the weekend, kicking off the grand opening of the city’s $250 million renovated CFG Bank Arena to an enthusiastic, adoring, sold-out house.

With a new, reconfigured stage, the historic arena—originally known as the Civic Center—never sounded better, and it proved a hit in terms of a concert-viewing experience. Originally opened in the fall of 1962, the venue has hosted everyone from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to James Brown, The Jackson 5, and Elvis.

On Saturday night, the Eagles followed Springsteen at the arena—which is owned by the city, but managed and operated by the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group. A major sports and entertainment company, the Oak View Group is leveraging the renovated venue and its contacts in the music industry to bring more “A-list” artists to Baltimore. With Lizzo, Janet Jackson, and Blink-182, among others, all booked in the coming weeks—as well as national comedy acts, a monster truck show, professional wrestling, and “Stars on Ice” figure skating—the arena would appear to be on track to break previous annual attendance records as promised when Oak View began its privately funded renovations a year ago.

See also:

Commentary: ‘I’ve got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack’: Bruce Springsteen cements relationship with city at arena show
by Norman Gomlak
Published April 8 in The Baltimore Banner



A developer tears down two 1840s stone millworker houses in Woodberry after promising to preserve them. (@sevensixfive)

A look at Baltimore’s preservation and planning fiascos
by Fern Shen and Mark Reutter
Published April 12 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: The death sentence handed out to the Hendler Creamery Building – after a developer who promised to restore the historic property was allowed to dismantle major chunks of it – has sparked deeper questions about why preservation in Baltimore seems to fail time and again.

Lately, all it takes to prompt architects and others to unleash a litany of horror stories is the mere mention of the March 14 demolition vote by the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) spelling out the likely end for the ornate, 131-year-old former ice cream plant on the east side.

“Look up the story of the Tower Building,” says architect Craig Purcell, still bitter about the 1986 tear down of the 18-story, clocked-topped structure that once stood prominently at the corner of Baltimore and South streets.

“Today, of course, it’s a parking lot.”



Pan Poached Salmon Special Helmand (Simone Phillips/The Baltimore Banner)

Ask Charm City Table: The Helmand still leaves a lasting impression
by Simone Phillips
Published April 9 in The Baltimore Banner

Excerpt: Mount Vernon, one of Baltimore’s most historic areas and cultural hotspots, has been home to The Helmand for 34 years. The Afghan restaurant was recommended by Baltimore Banner reader Brent Flickinger, who said it is his favorite because “the food is superb and the prices are very reasonable for the quality.”

In this week’s Ask Charm City Table, a column where I visit your favorite restaurants or share my own recommendations based on your dining questions, I enjoy a quaint and impressive dinner at The Helmand.

Named after Afghanistan’s longest river and the owner’s first-born son, The Helmand highlights the country’s history and culture through the restaurant’s aesthetic. Their two dining rooms and bar area are decorated with ancient and modern tapestries, paintings, and rugs. The atmosphere is somehow both unpretentious and regal.



Courtesy of Savers Thrift

Scour These Baltimore Thrift Stores and Consignment Shops
by Sarah Lederer with Rachel Hinch and Leah Volpe
Published April 6 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: Baltimore is home to a plethora of top-notch thrift and consignment stores, as any bargain hunting fashion plate can attest. Whether you’re looking to declutter your closets or score something new-to-you to rock, we’ve got you covered for the best spots around town to both drop off and pick up.



Still from episode 2 of MTV's The Exhibit. COURTESY PARAMOUNT

What MTV’s ‘The Exhibit’ Gets Wrong About the Art World
by Anni Irish
Published April 11 in ARTnews

Excerpt: The art world has always been a space for social fodder and seems perpetually plagued with a steady flow of major scandals. To name a few, there was Inigo Philbrick’s now infamous arrest in Vanuatu in 2020 by the FBI on charges of wire fraud totaling an alleged $20 million, legendary gallerist Mary Boone going to jail for tax fraud in 2019, and the FBI seizing a suite of paintings that had been attributed to Jean-Michel Basquiat in broad daylight last year. And, perhaps the most famous to enter the cultural milieu: Anna Delvey (aka the “Soho grifter”), who swindled people in the art world, had an epic trial, and then became the subject of the 2022 Netflix series Inventing Anna, loosely based on her story.

It’s only logical, then, to assume then that the art world would make the perfect subject for reality television. When you start to unpack this world, taking into consideration the larger mechanisms of power at work, however, it becomes even more fraught.



Image credit: Alma Thomas, Garden (Detail), ca. 1978

The Mitchell Art Museum at St. John’s College Opens Spring Shows Featuring Work of Black Artists and Prints by Rockwell Kent
Press Release: April 9

St. John’s College today announced that the Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Art Museum will present two exhibitions from April 9 through June 5: “Love by Looking: Selections from the Collection of Alitash Kebede,” and “The Prints of Rockwell Kent: Selections from the Ralf C. Nemec Collection.” 

“The exhibitions offer a study in contrasts,” says Peter Nesbett, Director of the Mitchell Art Museum, of the “Love by Looking” and Rockwell Kent exhibitions. “One was assembled as a way for an art dealer to remember friends—many now deceased—through their art. The other is the result of a near obsessive quest by one man to possess all the artwork of another man he never met. Though both exhibitions are drawn from private collections—one in Los Angeles, the other Long Island—they couldn’t be more different. They represent contrasting perspectives on why people buy art.” 

Admission to the museum and associated exhibition events is free and open to the public. Museum hours from April 9 through May 14 are Wednesday through Sunday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Fridays until 8 p.m. Beginning May 15, the museum will be open Friday through Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Mondays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

The “Love by Looking: Selections from the Collection of Alitash Kebede” exhibition showcases the notable collection of Los Angeles-based art dealer and documentary film-producer Alitash Kebede. But it is also about how Kebede, an Ethiopian immigrant, helped create the market for the art of Black artists in the United States. The show includes work by Romare Bearden, Ed Clark, Jacob Lawrence, and many others. 

The “Love by Looking” exhibit kicks off on Saturday, April 8, with two special events: a conversation between Bentley Brown, the exhibition’s curator, and Kebede about her life, experience, collection, and the value of friendship when forging social change at 5:30 p.m., followed by a concert and poetry reading at 6:30 p.m. in the Mellon Hall Lobby, located immediately outside the art museum. The Nag Champa Art Ensemble is a D.C.-based music group that performs futuristic funk, blending house music with jazz, hip-hop, go-go, and more elements that sound like something from another universe. The performance will be accompanied by a reading of Lucille Clifton poems. 

Additional free museum events include an hourlong tai chi session with Kebede on Sunday, April 9 at 10 a.m., followed by a screening of the documentary Richard Hunt Sculptor at 5 p.m. On Sunday, April 30, the museum hosts a group reading and discussion on the poetry and life of Baltimore-based Lucille Clifton (1936–2010), with Darlene R. Taylor, a writer, Howard University lecturer, and Clifton House board member. For more information on the poetry discussion and to RSVP, On Saturday, May 6, at 4 p.m. Annapolis-based multi-disciplinary artist Comacell Brown (aka Spitfire) will share his reflections on the exhibition in a casual gallery tour. Brown is the 2021 Anne Arundel Visual Artist of the Year. 

“The Kebede Collection is grounded in friendship,” says Nesbett. “She knew all the artists, and together they fought for both equal representation in the art world, and more robust Black patronage for Black art. For me, it raises interesting questions around intersections of the professional, the political, and the personal.” 

In addition to the “Love by Looking” exhibit, the museum will feature “The Prints of Rockwell Kent: Selections from the Ralf C. Nemec Collection.” This exhibition of 50 works is the largest assemblage of prints, worldwide, by American artist Rockwell Kent. A prolific artist and writer, Kent was also a renowned sailor and adventurer. He pictured the austere landscapes of Alaska and Greenland. He also illustrated editions of Candide, The Canterbury Tales, the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and Moby Dick. The exhibition includes seven of Kent’s 1931 illustrations for a reprint of the Old English epic poem Beowulf. 

Finally, the museum will offer visitors an opportunity to view “THE OPEN MUSEUM” video scrapbook of Mitchell Art Museum’s five-week raucous reopening, during which 1,500 people drew or wrote on the gallery walls. The video includes a stop-motion animation of how the immersive community mural came to be, as well as slides taken by participants along the way. 

For more information on exhibits and programming, visit or follow @sjcmitchell on Facebook and Instagram.

Header Image: Bruce Springsteen at CFG Bank Arena. Photography by Christopher Myers

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