WHEN the BAUhouse arts center opened two years ago, it offered a rich feast of visual arts, music, poetry, dance and theater untainted by commercial considerations. It gave Baltimore's unseasoned artists a highly visible post -- next to the Charles Theatre on Charles Street -- to display and refine their talents.
Now buffeted by the same economic conditions that have hurt most arts organizations, the BAUhouse has stalled in its own attempts to emerge, reaching the edge of insolvency. On Saturday, the arts center will hold a "Live or Let Die" benefit party at "10" the Performance Centre (formerly Cignals). Organizers hope the event will raise up to $10,000 -- enough money to keep the BAUhouse alive for the next few months.
"There's a great need for a space for the emerging artist," says executive director Pat Creswell. "And now there's no money."
Since March 1990, the BAUhouse has presented nearly 300 performances and 13 art exhibitions. Shows examining such issues as censorship, AIDS and homelessness have also sponsored community workshops and programs. A benefit held with the "Giving Shelter" exhibition last spring raised money for the YWCA Coalition for Homeless Children.
This month's schedule brings a performance of Sacred Harp Singing, an antique form of choral music; a workshop for songwriters; readings by Baltimore writers Elisabeth Stevens and Elaine Erickson and "Baltimore's Bohemians," a show of work by artists who gathered during the 1950s at Martick's Bar at Mulberry and Howard streets.
It's the kind of place that jazz musician and board president Ruby Glover describes as intimate and nurturing.
The 1991 operating budget was roughly $80,000, Ms. Creswell says. The organization received about $44,000 comprising private donations (contributors include the Abell Foundation and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.), memberships, fund-raisers and performances -- the center earns $800 to $1,000 monthly from admission to events. Almost $36,000 came from a list of such in-kind contributions as a slide projector from United Sanitary Chemicals and party food donated by Henry and Jeff's Delica
tessen and Restaurant.
The BAUhouse began this year with $1,800. So far no corporations or foundations have pledged money. Government grants will not be available until July.
"One thing a lot of organizations can do to raise money is to present entertainment they know will bring big audiences," Ms. Creswell says. "We do not do that, we cannot do that. Our focus is on emerging artists. What we try to do is present them in such a way that we can build audiences for them."
She says it's difficult to persuade corporations and businesses to support art that comes without a pedigree: "People are more likely to fund what they know. Emerging artists are sometimes looked at as more avant-garde, and people are afraid to fund them. With all this stuff on censorship, people are fearful that an emerging artist will cross the line that will make their business image fail."
"The Live or Let Die" benefit includes performances by musician Steve Berson, dance theater performer Luana Kaufmann, comedian Andre Browne and the musical groups Experience Wheeler, Instant Siberia, the Pearlfishers and Winkte and Crazy Sacred Dogs. There will be films by Steve Estes and Peter Walsh and poetry readings by Jennie Keith, John Potash, Gavin, Rupert Wandolowski, Blaster Al Ackerman, Chris Toll, Batworth, Bean and Chris Mason.
The benefit runs from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. at "lO," the Performance Centre, 10 E. Lafayette St. Tickets are $5 per person. For details, call (410) 659-5520.