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Free Fall Baltimore begins Thursday with free zoo admission, hundreds of activities

Madonna isn't coming to Baltimore, but the Madonnari is.

Free Fall Baltimore, the city's monthlong extravaganza of no-charge cultural activities, will kick off Thursday with free admission at the Maryland Zoo, a workshop in which participants can make illuminated headdresses, a festival showcasing chalk paintings created on the streets of Little Italy and more.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced the lineup for the 10th annual festival at a news conference Tuesday morning at City Hall. The event, which runs through Nov. 1, will offer more than 200 events from nearly 80 participating organizations.

"Free Fall gives us a chance to shine a light on all the cultural assets we have in Baltimore and give people a chance to experiment and try something new," said Randi Vega, director of cultural affairs for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which operates Free Fall. "It also exposes our smaller cultural institutions to a wider audience."

Festival-goers can attend gratis normally pricey or closed-to-the-public performances. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will present an open rehearsal of a concert featuring YouTube sensation Valentina Lisitsa on Oct. 23, while Everyman Theatre will offer a free performance of August Wilson's epic drama, "Fences" on Oct. 20.

In addition, Free Fall Baltimore will provide a plethora of quirky fare. For the first time, the annual Transmodern Festival of avant-garde arts has been timed to coincide with Free Fall. Organizers will host a series of free workshops culminating in an illuminated Twilight Parade on Sunday.

Architecture buffs will get a rare glimpse inside the historic Peale Museum. Though the building is usually closed to the public, it will host a festival of plein-air art during Free Fall's final two weekends.

In addition, jazz saxophonist Carl Grubbs and his string ensemble will conduct free performances of his "Inner Harbor Suite Revisited: A Tribute to Baltimore" on Saturday at Pierce's Park in the Inner Harbor.

Free Fall's opening weekend coincides with the debut of the inaugural Madonnari Arts Festival, beginning Thursday. The Madonnari harks back to a 16th-century tradition celebrating street art and will be held in Little Italy. Chalk paintings created by a slate of local and international artists will be supplemented with Italian food, wine, music, theater and dance.

Primary funding for Free Fall Baltimore is provided by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. For a full schedule, go to freefallbaltimore.org.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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