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Baltimore’s Best activities and arts groups 2020

The Baltimore Sun’s readers and staff have weighed in on what’s the best in the region from art galleries to urgent care.

First, you’ll find critics’ picks from The Sun’s editorial team.

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Best of 2020

Then, you’ll see what readers think; the readers’ choice winners received the most votes during an online poll in March.

(Winners of the Readers’ Choice ballot were selected by readers.)

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Find more categories at baltimoresun.com/best.


"Mahalia," a sculpture by Elizabeth Catlett, was part of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum's exhibit "Elizabeth Catlett: Artist as Activist."
"Mahalia," a sculpture by Elizabeth Catlett, was part of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum's exhibit "Elizabeth Catlett: Artist as Activist." (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

Museum exhibition (In the past year)

“Elizabeth Catlett: Artist as Activist”

Even people unfamiliar with the late artist Elizabeth Catlett may recognize her iconic depiction of a black female sharecropper that was on view in a recent exhibit of her works at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. Beneath a broad-brimmed hat, the elderly woman’s face radiates stoic dignity. “Elizabeth Catlett: Artist as Activist" was a gorgeous collection of 20 prints and 14 sculptures borrowed from Maryland collectors that ranged in style from realistic to abstract. The exhibit made the argument that showcasing the strength, resilience and undeniable beauty of African American women and mothers is a potent weapon for battling sexism and racism.

Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, 830 E. Pratt St., Inner Harbor. (443) 263-1800. lewismuseum.org


Dinner theater

Toby’s

A buffet and a play, that’s what you get at Toby’s — and few leave unfulfilled. For 40 years, folks have been filling the cozy theater-in-the-round in Columbia, which boasts that no one sits more than 30 feet from the stage. Patrons dine on comfort food, favorite standbys like the spinach phunque and a sundae bar. Drinks are served by actors in the show. Toby’s has performed more than 200 productions, from “Annie” to “Beauty & The Beast,” a testament to its staying power in a dwindling field.

5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia. 410-730-8311. tobysdinnertheatre.com


"Men on Boats" at Baltimore Center Stage.
"Men on Boats" at Baltimore Center Stage. (HANDOUT/Baltimore Sun)

Theater production

“Men on Boats”

This is the “other” musical to play Baltimore this year that used a non-traditional cast to put a fresh spin on a real-life episode from American history. Baltimore Center Stage’s production of “Men on Boats” cast women and gender non-conforming performers to re-enact John Wesley Powell’s 1869 river expedition down the Grand Canyon. (In real life, all 10 crew members were white men.) Though the production, directed by Jenny Koons, celebrated female friendship, it refrained from demonizing men. The result was an even-handed, buoyant and moving show that paid tribute to human curiosity and the drive to explore the unknown.

Baltimore Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., Mount Vernon. 410-986-4000. centerstage.org


Set design

Daniel Ettinger

Daniel Ettinger’s sumptuous set for Everyman Theatre’s production of “Murder on the Orient Express” could easily have gone off the rails. Instead, audience members were treated to a rendition of the famous 1930s-era Art Deco train that was as opulent as it was meticulously executed, with less than two inches of space separating set pieces stored backstage. And that’s just one recent example of the magic that the troupe’s resident scenic designer routinely has pulled off for stages in Maryland and on and off-Broadway. “I love the geometry of things," Ettinger has said, "figuring out how to take the world of the play and translate it into a practical reality.”

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Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette St., Bromo Arts and Entertainment District. 410-752-2208. everymantheatre.org


Budding fashion entrepreneur

Small Island Clothing

Sara Stanton and the seven other finalists in the UP/Start Venture competition have big ideas for what could be tomorrow’s in-demand products. The eight were winnowed from 37 entries in an annual contest sponsored by the Maryland Institute College of Art that provides $100,000 for one talented student or recent alumna to start a business. Full disclosure: though we’ve read the pitch descriptions, we haven’t seen the prototypes and the competition’s winner hadn’t been selected when we went to press. But we’re intrigued by Small Island’s goal of designing genderless ties for transgender and gender-nonconforming people who avoid shopping because they’re limited to clothing choices for men or women.

Maryland Institute College of Art, 1300 W. Mt. Royal Ave., Station North. 410-669-9200. mica.edu


Baltimore hip-hop artist Dee Dave.
Baltimore hip-hop artist Dee Dave.

Rapper/MC

Dee Dave

David Leroy King Jr.’s impact was evident from the more than hundred family, friends and fans who packed the Towson American Legion to pay respects to the late hip-hop artist, who rapped as Dee Dave, in late January. A succession of speakers, including his parents, grandparents, friends, collaborators and cousins uplifted his generous spirit and positivity-laden music before sending a volley of balloons into the air. The say Dee Dave lived the message behind his 2019 album, “Real 4eva,” at all times. And while he was killed before he could catch his big break, his empowering messages prove his enduring relevance to fans, new and old.


Baltimore group Horse Lords.
Baltimore group Horse Lords. (Audrey Gatewood)

Rock band

Horse Lords

To call Horse Lords a rock band only scratches the surface of what they’re capable of. As they’ve proven on successive releases, including this year’s excellent “The Common Task,” the idea of “rock music” is totally malleable. The new record’s first track, “Fanfare for Effective Freedom” (a nod to the band’s political leanings), dispenses with lyrics in favor of jagged guitar lines, interlocking waltz rhythms and and evolving tempos. This is the rare band that pushes you beyond your comfort zone while offering enough rhythm that, as long as you try, you can find your footing.


Mourners line up before dawn at New Psalmist Baptist Church for the funeral service of Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Mourners line up before dawn at New Psalmist Baptist Church for the funeral service of Rep. Elijah Cummings. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Church/faith band

New Psalmist Baptist Church

You don’t need to be a Christian to understand the power of a good church band. And in a metropolitan area with many churches rooted in African American sacred music, the band at New Psalmist Baptist Church just might be the best. Just listen to a sermon on the church’s YouTube channel for proof. See how the musicians riff off of Bishop Walter S. Thomas Sr.’s powerful oratory. Feel them build in a crescendo. And know that religious or not, you have been moved.

6020 Marian Drive, Lochearn. 410-945-3000. newpsalmist.org


Theresa Morningstar rides along the Little Gunpowder Falls in Gunpowder Falls State Park.
Theresa Morningstar rides along the Little Gunpowder Falls in Gunpowder Falls State Park. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Trail

Little Gunpowder Trail

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With almost 18,000 acres of parkland and 120 miles of trails, it’s hard to go wrong finding great natural beauty in Gunpowder Falls State Park. For those who want to spend time in the great outdoors without Bear Grylls-like intensity, Little Gunpowder Trail (in the Jerusalem Mill area of the park) is perhaps your best bet. According to the website of the Gunpowder United Mountain Bike Operators, a volunteer group that maps trails throughout the greater park for interested cyclists, the trail’s main loop is two miles and well-suited for all for all levels of bikers, hikers and runners.

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Entrance near the Jerusalem Mill Parking Lot, Kingsville. 410-592-2897. dnr.maryland.gov


Teelin School of Irish Dance.
Teelin School of Irish Dance. (Scott W. Ortel)

Irish dance studio

Teelin School of Irish Dance

Twenty-three years ago, she began teaching with five students. Now, Maureen Berry instructs nearly 300 Riverdance wannabes, from 4-year-olds to 60-somethings, at the Teelin School in Columbia. Teelin has produced a world champion, several North American title winners and a bevy of adult hoofers who, in six weeks, can learn enough moves to dance in a pub for free beer. The more serious students perform in a traveling troupe with an array of staff, including a physical therapist and even a sports psychologist. “We leave no Blarney stone unturned,” says Berry, 44, who majored in dance at Towson University.

9221 Rumsey Road, Columbia. 443-629-7808. teelin.com


Students from Hammond Elementary School learn about the War of 1812 and the Great Garrison Flag while on a field trip to Fort McHenry.
Students from Hammond Elementary School learn about the War of 1812 and the Great Garrison Flag while on a field trip to Fort McHenry. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Monument

Fort McHenry

Often overlooked by local residents, the fort is a humbling touchstone with the past where one can walk through the site, chat with re-enactors and witness musket firings and fire-and-drum performances. It doesn’t evoke the charm of a Williamsburg, just a lump-in-the-throat ancestral pride. Climb the ramparts; help to hoist or lower Old Glory. Watch the video of the fort’s storied history and its role in three wars. And don’t be afraid to cry.

2400 E Fort Ave., Baltimore. 410-962-4290 ext. 250. nps.gov


Mustang Alley's.
Mustang Alley's. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

Bowling

Mustang Alley’s

The owners call it an upscale bowling center, which means that between rolling strikes, you can knock down a plate of fried calamari or firecracker shrimp delivered to your lane by the waiter.

The name, Mustang Alley’s, is a play on the song “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett in 1966. Then, bowling was a back-slapping, blue-collar pastime. This place, with cherry wood floors, has four duckpin and eight tenpin lanes, plus a high-end bistro, bar and a backroom for corporate parties, baby showers and bachelor parties.

“We have a picture of Babe Ruth with a duckpin ball in his hands,” says co-owner Jason Smith. “Babe wouldn’t recognize this place, but if he saw our beer menu, he would come.”

1300 Bank St., #2, Baltimore. 410-522-2695. mustangalleys.com


Actor Tony Tsendeas, who plays Edgar Allan Poe, photographed at The Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum.
Actor Tony Tsendeas, who plays Edgar Allan Poe, photographed at The Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Spirit of Poe event, place or thing

International Edgar Allen Poe Festival

For the third year, all things Poe coalesce in this free two-day celebration (Oct. 3-4) of the poet’s life — and death — at his home in Poppleton. Highlights include Poe readings set to music, a re-enactment of his funeral and exhibits of the author’s influence on film and fashion. Browse the Poe-related art, books and crafts for sale. Have a RavenBeer. Last year’s quirky festival featured an Unhappy Hour and a Sad Poetry contest, as well as a Black Cat Masquerade Ball at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, where Poe was laid to rest in 1849.

203 N. Amity St., Baltimore. 410-462-1763. poefestinternational.com

— Mike Klingaman, Mary Carole McCauley, and Sameer Rao


Readers’ choice winners

Casino

Horseshoe Casino Baltimore

Charity/nonprofit

The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS)

College/university

Towson University

Comedy show or venue

Baltimore Improv Group (BIG)

Concert series

WTMD First Thursdays

Craft fair

Artscape

Dance troupe

Fluid Movement

DJ

DJ Impulse

Dog park

Patterson Park Dog Park

Festival

Artscape

Fundraiser

BARCStoberfest

Golf course

Turf Valley Resort

Historic landmark

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Ice rink

Inner Harbor Ice Rick

Live speakers event

Writers LIVE! (Enoch Pratt Free Library)

Movie theater

The Senator Theatre

Museum

American Visionary Art Museum

Outdoor film series

Flicks From The Hill

Park

Patterson Park

Party band

Bad Apples

Performance venue

Cat’s Eye Pub

Place to take the kids

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

Private School

Calvert Hall College High School

Suburb

Towson

Theater company

Baltimore Center Stage

Tourist attaction

National Aquarium

Wedding venue

Baltimore Museum of Industry

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