A sample of fresh arts ventures for 2012

In the arts world, fresh ideas are generated on a perennial basis — and this year is no different. Three new cultural projects in a variety of media promise to spice things up considerably in 2012.

On the theater front, look for the inauguration of Baltimore Open Theatre. The company will present cutting-edge national and international theater and dance groups new to Baltimore, with all tickets at the recession-proof price of nada. It's poised to deliver quite a jolt to the city's already vibrant alternative theater community.

Visually speaking, there's In (parentheses), a newly formed circle of Baltimore-area photographers ready to make some waves. The goal is to fill a void by creating a gallery exclusively dedicated to the photographic and video artists. While the group works on finding a permanent space, count on exhibits around town that will help spread the word that Baltimore has a hot, underappreciated photography scene.

The New Year will find one of the city's coolest music ensembles, Mobtown Modern, introducing an association with the Maryland Institute College of Art that will take students, performers and audiences on decidedly unusual aural journeys. In addition to a program devoted to 20th-century super-maverick John Cage, the new Mobtown Sound Lab plans a concert that will take place simultaneously and interactively in two countries.

There are bound to be other Baltimore arts innovations in 2012, but these will certainly be enough to keep things interesting.

Baltimore Open Theatre

Two pioneers from different eras of the city's theater scene have joined forces to create Baltimore Open Theatre, which will have a free-admission policy. Performances by contemporary theater and dance companies from the region, nation and abroad, will be presented, starting in the fall.

It's the brainchild of Philip Arnoult, 70, who founded the Theatre Project four decades ago, and Buck Jabaily, 27, who co-founded the Single Carrot Theatre in 2007 and who is stepping down as director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance.

"I've been a mentor to Buck on a lot of levels," Arnoult said, "and this man needs to be in the theater. He's absolutely perfect at this time for this project. We're so tuned into what we think this is about."

Several possible locations for Baltimore Opera Theatre are being considered, with attention focused on the Station North Arts and Entertainment District and Baltimore's west side. A venue is likely to be decided on within the next few months.

Arnoult and Jabaily plan to curate productions of cutting-edge work from a wide variety of groups, especially those who have not appeared before in the area. The 2012-2013 inaugural season of Baltimore Open Theatre is scheduled to showcase companies from South America and Eastern Europe.

"In Baltimore and most of America, I'm going to see well-made plays with a beginning, middle and end, with a protagonist and antagonist," Jabaily said. "Most of our work will not be like that."

In addition to presenting four or five international companies, two weeks at a time, future plans call for as much as 20 weeks of local and regional work each season.

"That will include Baltimore companies," Jabaily said. "We also may find artists who want to get together to work on a show, and we will be able to take off some of the pressure for them and help them get it done."

A grant of $50,000 from the Deutsch Foundation has made it possible to launch Baltimore Open Theatre. The foundation has also committed to a $150,000 challenge grant to support the organization.

Arnoult is a longtime advocate of free access to theater, which was the original policy at the Theatre Project. He now runs the Center for International Theatre Development.

"What I'm seeing for the past 20 years in Poland, Russia, Bulgaria and Hungary is an evolution of young audiences coming to their theaters," Arnoult said. "America has an aging audience. That has got to change."

Plans call for a lean staff and an essentially paperless operation, with communication done primarily via the Internet and social media.

Removing the price barrier is only one goal for Baltimore Open Theatre.

"We want to consider how to deepen the theater experience," Jabaily said. "A theater event is really the center of a three-act play. This first act is about evoking intrigue before the performance. And the third act is an exchange among artists and the audience; we're calling it 'post-consumable art.'"

Mobtown Modern's Sound Lab at MICA

Mobtown Modern has been busy pushing boundaries, musically speaking, in Baltimore for several years, offering concerts devoted to current and vintage stars of the avant garde. In 2012, things will get pushed a little more.

"After five years in existence, Mobtown Modern is getting back to the spirit of experimentation we had in the beginning," said co-founder Brian Sacawa. "The ethos of Mobtown is reaching out to a different audience, a more diverse audience."

That audience will include students. In a partnership with Maryland Institute College of Art, Mobtown will be working with the Interaction Design and Art department, specifically the newly launched Sound Art Studio, which offers studies in composition, improvisation, computer music, sound installation and more.

"In the Mobtown Modern Sound Lab, students can create experimental music, sound installations and work on new forms of graphic notation," said Erik Spangler, a MICA adjunct faculty member, composer and electronic musician who co-founded Mobtown Modern. "They will also work one-on-one with Mobtown musicians."

Students will also interact with Mobtown performances. In February, for example, Mobtown will present a rare performance of Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano by path-breaking legend John Cage (a prepared piano is a traditional keyboard instrument altered by the placement of various objects on or between the strings).

"Students will record the dress rehearsal and/or the performance," Spangler said, "then create re-mixes as a way of providing their own reactions to the music, their own reinterpretations."

The exploration of sound art will continue in late April with a "telematic concert" devoted to a new sci-fi-theme work by Spangler, a seasoned turntablist. "ZeroTime," which has what the composer describes as "a theatrical, sci-fi framework, with a futuristic scenario," involves sampling of sounds from vinyl records.

A half-dozen or so Mobtown musicians will perform the piece in the atrium of MICA's Brown Center, while, via Internet audio stream, a similar-sized ensemble will perform simultaneously 4,400 miles away in Rome.

The aim of these and other Mobtown Modern projects with MICA is to engage the students directly in "another aspect of contemporary art," Sacawa said. "It's 'sound art,' which is music. The possibilities of how we could interface with the students are endless."

In (Parentheses)

Out of prosecco-fueled meetings at the Club Charles, six Baltimore photographers formed a collective called In (parentheses).

"What a collective can do is bring people together, introduce photographers and other image-makers to each other and the public," said Marian Glebes, who contributed intriguing video art to "Fields of Vision," the collective's inaugural exhibit at the Case[werks] Gallery. "It's about showing that there is a home for this art, not only in terms of walls, but in terms of discourse."

Judging by the pieces that spice "Fields of Vision," which includes multiple generations of photographic artists in the area and beyond, that discourse could get quite lively as In (parentheses) continues to develop in 2012.

"We saw that there was no place in Baltimore dedicated to photography and videography," said Joseph Giordano, a Baltimore Sun contributor known for his contemporary take on portraiture. "Photography is really hard to show in galleries, and chances of getting a solo show — forget about it. One of our main missions is to bring national and international artists in this medium to Baltimore."

The collective plans to find a permanent space as soon as feasible, possibly in the increasingly popular Station North area. But the photographers are not rushing to become owners or renters of a gallery.

"The goal now is to animate other places," said photographer Jill Fannon, whose works reflect a flair for the surreal. "Photography is a very social medium."

Public lectures and discussions will be a regular part of the group's activities in an effort to spur wider appreciation of the art form and its diverse applications.

In addition to their own pieces, collective members selected works by photographers who inspired them for the "Fields of Vision" exhibit, which runs through Jan. 27.

"Baltimore has left an imprint on all of them, and they've left an imprint on Baltimore," said collective member Sean Scheidt.

The show features a wide variety of subject matters and techniques, from photojournalism and stop-motion animation to cyanotype — an essentially camera-less method of producing images. Scheidt's contribution is a striking example of alternative processing. His laser transfer portrait of a nude could be mistaken, even close-up, for a Renaissance painting, cracks in the canvas and all.

"Our job is to challenge people's view of the medium," Scheidt said. "I'm interested in redefining photography, bending things and pushing boundaries."


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