The most established of Baltimore's three arts districts, Station North is still keeping it anti-establishment — building on its do-it-yourself ethos even as it suffers something of a revolving door in management.
The most recent large developments include the November 2015 opening of Motor House, a cultural hub housing arts organizations and artists; the impending debut of Open Works, a tech-friendly makerspace; and the scheduled 2017 opening of the Parkway Theatre, slated to bring emerging filmmakers and hundreds of new films.
After five years with the Station North Arts & Entertainment Inc. organization, executive director Ben Stone stepped down in April and was replaced by interim director Rebecca Chan, who left in late July. Now, Station North is in search of its newest director, which could be decided by early fall, according to the organization's development and office manager, Amelia Rambissoon.
Leadership is proud of where the neighborhood has come over the past nearly 15 years — and wants to continue capitalizing on the artists and institutions in the neighborhood.
"What we've been about from the beginning was doing creative events and creativity that interested everybody, whether it's the artists, visitors or the business people," said Cynthia Blake Sanders, the president and chair of the Station North board of directors. "There's really a lot of effort to keep the characteristic of the neighborhood. ... And we're lucky that the arts institutions are buttressing that. It gives us more opportunity to bring people together."
Station North, which spans the Charles North, Greenmount West and Barclay neighborhoods, was the first area in the state to receive the arts designation in 2002. Since then, it has established itself as a place that breeds creativity among diverse groups of people through its galleries, theaters and eclectic music venues. It's also home to an increasing number of "makerspaces" that encourage people to build their worlds DIY-style.
The Station North organization, too, has evolved, taking ownership of projects like the Ynot Lot in 2014, using an empty field at North Avenue and Charles Street to hosts events such as a candlelight vigil after the mass shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Then, there's Alloverstreet. Launched in 2013, the East Oliver Street Art Walk prompts local galleries and art spaces to open their doors the first Friday of every month.
And next spring, the organization — awarded a $35,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts — has partnered with Maryland Institute College of Art to install portable mini-golf stations around the district. Eight holes designed by students from four local schools are intended to increase foot traffic and offer family-friendly entertainment.
But the organization's focus is on assisting the ideas that already exist, Rambissoon said.
In November, the Baltimore Arts Realty Corp. opened the doors of Motor House — formerly the Load of Fun — now home to more than a dozen artists and six arts organizations, including the Station North organization, dance company Dance and Bmore, and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. Inside are numerous studios for artists and a 175-seat black box theater.
"It's such a creative space. There's so many artists in the building ... You feel the synergy. You get the sense that art is happening all around you," said CJay Philip, a choreographer and the director of Dance and Bmore.
Makerspaces, including the Baltimore Print Studios, Baltimore Jewelry Center and the Station North Tool Library, have cropped up throughout the district in the past decade, giving access to tools, equipment and education. The most recent makerspace is Open Works on Greenmount Avenue.
Slated to open Sept. 24, the two-story, 34,000-square-foot warehouse, a nonprofit development of Baltimore Arts Realty Corp., will be an $11.5 million campus, equipped with a digital media studio; woodworking and metal shops; textile and 3D printing facilities; and laser cutting machines. The space will also include a computer lab, two classrooms, a coffee shop, lobby space that will host gallery shows and events and 140 microstudios for artists, according to the general manager, Will Holman.
"We see this as a space to help rebuild Baltimore's manufacturing economy from the bottom up and the middle out," he said. "Besides the context for the larger city, we see a special opportunity … to build a certain maker campus that spans from recent grads at MICA on the west side of the district over to us on the east side."
The Maryland Film Festival, which has partnered with the Johns Hopkins University and MICA, is slated to premiere the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Film Center in the spring, opening the historic Parkway Theatre for the first time in nearly 40 years, according to festival director Jed Dietz.
The partnership will allow local arts institutions to use the space, while the festival expands its year-round programming to include film series, lectures and live music. It will screen around 300 new films a year, Dietz said.
It's about half the size of the Charles Theatre, but "it's filling the cultural gap that we need to fill right now in exactly the right location," said Dietz, noting its impact on the arts district.
With recent investments in North Avenue, Rambissoon said there's still more to come. A $27.3 million project slated to begin next fall will repave roads, add bus and bike lanes and improve sidewalks and bus stops on a five-mile stretch of North Avenue, as well as upgrade the Penn-North Metro Subway and Light Rail stations.
The Station North organization itself has grown, with bigger budgets and a number of grants in order, which has made the search for an executive director all the more pressing, according to Sanders. It has taken longer than expected, she said.
"We want to have someone with some pretty substantial experience running these types of organizations," she said. "We want someone who will be able to have the amazing imagination for cool new projects but with the management experience ... to keep all the stuff going on going."
Seventy-five applications have been submitted, Sanders said. The search committee hopes to make a decision by late September.
"It's just a good time to get new energy in here. Ben was here for five years, and it changed a lot since when he began," said Rambissoon, who has been living in the district for nearly 10 years. "It would be cool to see what someone new can do and build upon what he already started."