Welcome back to Baltimore Backstage as we take you behind the scenes with peeks at the local arts scene.
This week we get into the mind of TV producer and creator of “The Wire” David Simon as he dishes on a true Baltimore story he’s always wanted to share. (Be sure to check out the video that also features him and executive producer Nina Noble playing “That’s So Baltimore.”)
AFRAM is this weekend and we have the inside scoop on all the lingo, plus the reason the festival was moved to June, and a video tour of the grounds with a fun new activity happening in collaboration with Black Greek organizations.
We round up this behind-the-scenes tour learning what it takes to organize dozens of artists and organizations in downtown Baltimore to create the one-night only experience that is Bromo Art Walk.
Creator David Simon still has Baltimore stories to tell
In the same year commemorating the 20th anniversary of “The Wire,” David Simon released a new HBO show “We Own This City,” based on the book written by former Sun reporter Justin Fenton, it’s another police series set in Charm City. But, Simon said there’s still a lighthearted Baltimore story he’s yet to tell about a reporter and his affinity for a gorilla named Baltimore Jack.
“There is a great story that I’d love to do, about an aging alcoholic newspaper man in the late 1960s early 70s — it’s a true story — who manages to write a series of newspaper articles as his final swan song about a gorilla at the Baltimore Zoo, who for the first chance in his life, has the opportunity to mate with another gorilla, who was in Phoenix,” Simon explained.
As his last newspaper campaign, the reporter tries to get Baltimore Jack on a date with the Phoenix Zoo gorilla, Hazel.
“It’s everything I’ve ever wanted to say about how much fun newspapering was for me, in the time that I got to do it,” said Simon, a former police reporter for The Sun.
Simon said that “something affectionate and comedic,” would be a nice gift to Baltimore after so many crime and police based narratives set in Charm City.
“I would love to bring something into town that was basically just gentle, and got some of Baltimore and our way of being, and maybe a little of our history, and also had this delicate little bit of love affair with journalism. So, if I ever can get through the script of Baltimore Jack, maybe I’ll make a little bit of amends for all the cop show stuff.”
‘The Wire’ is available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital and to stream on HBO Max.
AFRAM is aiming to take over Juneteenth weekend
I recently took a tour of Druid Hill Park with the organizers of AFRAM, the annual festival that celebrates Black culture and freedom.
On my walk-through I learned from AFRAM insiders that the festival grounds is not just a park, it’s “the footprint.”
“We’ve got some griots, spoken word artists, some vocalists, some great DJs, they’ll be there to greet people when they come right on to the footprint,” said Tierra Brown, chief of marketing communications.
When checking out headlining acts like Ne-Yo, El DeBarge, The O’Jays, Yung Bleu, Rotimi, LeAndria Johnson and Inayah, remember you’re not just standing in the AFRAM Live space, you’re in “the bowl,” what staff members call the area where performances take place.
This year, the team is putting finishing touches on planning two months earlier than normal to coincide with Juneteenth, the new national holiday that celebrates the official end of slavery.
“Last year, Juneteenth, became a national holiday, and [Mayor Brandon Scott] wanted to find a way for Baltimoreans to celebrate the holiday — which is the perfect weekend to celebrate African American heritage,” said Nicole Green, deputy director of Baltimore City Recreation and Parks and AFRAM co-chair.
With such a big footprint on a weekend that already has loads of local programming, AFRAM wants to make sure smaller organizations are not overlooked.
“We know that AFRAM is a huge event and we know that the smaller events used to rely on city services and everything’s going to be used for AFRAM. So to support them, we’re giving them $1000 grants to help with their program,” Green said.
Some organizations are taking their Juneteenth celebrations to Druid Hill Park.
“One of those organizations is BMore Free, their activity for Juneteenth is normally held in the Park Heights area, so this year, they’re bringing the entire festival to Juneteenth, and we’re really excited about that,” said Green.
AFRAM will be held June 18-19 at Druid Hill Park and is free and open to the public. aframbaltimore.com
Bromo Arts District returns with expanded ‘Art Walk’
After launching the event in 2021, Bromo Arts District in collaboration with Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, is back with ‘Bromo Art Walk.’ With dozens of participating organizations and countless individual artists, the June 23 evening experience combines arts engagement with a fun challenge testing how many art spaces a person can possibly get to in four hours.
“It’s actually a pretty unique experience to be able to visit all of our creative spaces in one evening, although it’s nearly impossible to make it to every space that evening in the four hours that people have,” said Emily Breiter, executive director of the Bromo Arts District.
With more than 100 acres on the west side of downtown Baltimore, Bromo Arts District is a lot of space to cover. The area houses more than 30 different galleries, theaters, collectives and creative spaces, in addition to the artists who live or work nearby. During Bromo Art Walk, residents will be able to visit 18 locations to engage with the arts organizations based in Bromo Arts District.
“It brings our entire community together,” Breiter said. “It really feels like one really major, creative block party.”
‘Bromo Art Walk,’ is June 23 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Attendance is free and registration is encouraged. Go to eventbrite.com.