The pungent, mouth-watering aroma of garlic cookery rises in confirmation from the kitchen as Margaret Footner says: "I like the idea of having a gallery and cafe in the same space."
She's the proprietor of Margaret's Cafe Open in Fells Point and sponsor of the Halcyon Gallery, which is upstairs, and she's surrounded now by paintings and artistic artifacts instead of food orders, recipes and menus. She's pasting stamps on announcements of "The BIG Show," which starts in Fells Point Sept. 28.
"I think it's important to have art in spaces that are really available to the public," she says. "Accessible, comfortable and not formidable."
Right now the Halcyon Gallery smells as comfortable and inviting as your momma's kitchen, if your mom's a cool, hip artist and a pretty good cook.
Seated around a table like neighbors who've stopped in for coffee, and stamping cards along with the thirty-something Ms. Footner, are: Dan Schiavone, 33 ("He's a Renaissance man," says Ms. Footner); Megan Hamilton, 38, the gallery's curator, an art writer and quite possibly a Renaissance woman; and Mercedes Shriver, 33, an artist whose figurative painting across the room looks like a cross between a Grace Hartigan and a Willem de Kooning.
Ms. Footner, Ms. Hamilton and Mr. Schiavone make up a kind of directorate of the Fells Point Creative Alliance. "The BIG Show," which opens Thursday for a month of art and culture, is the Creative Alliance's first members' show. About 80 artists will show work at nine Fells Point "venues," none of which is a dread megabar or even, for that matter, a mini-bar.
Cafe and gallery
The Creative Alliance is a nonprofit offshoot of the Halcyon Gallery, which opened about six months after Margaret's Cafe three years ago. The cafe and gallery are at 909 Fell St., which is about as deep in Fells Point as you can go. One more block and you're swimming.
"The alliance is a promotional co-op for spaces that exhibit art in the neighborhood," Mr. Schiavone says. "And it also serves as an artist's guild, in that artists get together regularly every month and talk about their work and their medium and technique and aesthetics.
"And we also help our member artists in promoting their work, teaching them how to stick stamps on postcards," he deadpans.
"He's coming along," Ms. Footner quips, critiquing Mr. Schiavone's technique.
Mr. Schiavone also paints. He writes about art. He's a self-taught bookbinder of such skill and high repute he's been chosen to cover a gift book in leather for Pope John Paul II when he visits Baltimore. He plays organ for the Polish National Catholic Church on Broadway.
L "There are a lot of minor keys in Polish hymns," he remarks.
"I moved here eight years ago. Because of the movie 'Diner.' I ended up working at a diner for a while."
"Dan's an ace at hanging shows," Ms. Hamilton says. He'll hang "The BIG Show." "He's a visual artist, and I think he's very keyed into artists' needs."
Ms. Hamilton and Mr. Schiavone worked together on an arts magazine called Art and Progress, and they're looking to launch another for the Creative Alliance. The alliance already has a page on the Internet's Worldwide Web.
"It's an on-line gallery of artist members," Mr. Schiavone says.
"And our individual artists can drop in images into our gallery, and you can get overviews of what they're about and what their work's about," says Ms. Hamilton. "You can get a calendar of our activities. You can get sort of a mission statement about what we're up to."
About 90 artists are members now, and the alliance also has nine "presenter" members, Fells Point spots that show art. Besides ,, Margaret's Cafe and the Halcyon, they include Funk's Democratic Coffee Spot, Adrian's Book Store Cafe, Vagabond Players, Orpheum Theater, Daily Grind, Baltimore Camera Works, and the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point.
"The BIG Show" is an open members' show, with young and old painters, photographers and sculptors from in and around Baltimore, from Pennsylvania to D.C.
"Every style," Mr. Schiavone says. "I'd call it a good cross section of Baltimore artists, because it runs the gamut from people who are pretty well-established to people who are just out of art school."
The Baltimore Style will be explicated in a lecture at the Halcyon Oct. 4 by Peter Walsh titled "Subversive Acts: Baltimore Aesthetics and the Role of Critics in Tiny Town." Mr. Walsh is an artist, filmmaker and writer who is about to start an arts journal.
"The show is about the process of making art in Baltimore," Ms. Hamilton says, "about validating the making of art as a legitimate process.
"It's an egalitarian show," she says. "We're going to have artwork made by all different people with all different amounts of training with all different concerns."
"In a sense it's not really curated. Anyone who wants to be a member of our alliance can join and be a member, and their work will be exhibited. So it gives you a really good cross section of the kind of work people are making in Baltimore."
Becoming an alliance member takes only $25 and the ability to fill out a form, Mr. Schiavone says. "Actually," he says, "we'll probably help you to fill out the form if you really need it."
"The BIG Show" will open with a gala reception from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sept. 28 at all the venues in Fells Point. On Oct. 12, Clarinda Harriss Raymond and Betty Parry will read from their works at the Halcyon, and on Oct. 28 the Fells Point Ladies -- Niki Lee, Madelyn Sandor and Patti Sullivan -- will sing standards by Baltimore jazz greats.
"By getting art out of its usual context, out of an exclusive gallery space and getting it out of a fastidiously curated presentation," says Ms. Hamilton, "it should get people talking about art and the process of making art and who makes art."
"We're very interested in presenting artists in our community back to the community," she says. "Lots and lots of artists live in Baltimore. We're acting as a sort of introduction service: Stop, look at what your neighbor made."