Need some new ideas for surprising your sweetie on Valentine's Day? How about a sensual foot massage or a scorching love letter written with fluorescent ink?
These are just a few of the romantic possibilities Baltimore writer and artist Lenett Nef'faatiti Allen will be exploring this evening from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at a workshop on "The Art of Courtship" at the OYO Traditions Cultural Institute in the city's Station North district.
The workshop is part of the daylong "Gotta Have Art" celebration showcasing the district's arts and entertainment venues. Featured events range from afternoon finger-painting for kids at the American Dime Museum to an intimate evening of Latin jazz at Westnorth Studio.
The impetus for Allen's workshop came from her own interest in old courtship rituals in the African-American community, as well as her appreciation for the present-day dilemmas of singles trying to hook up and couples whose love lives are in a rut.
"It's not like we learn this in school," said Allen, 48, who juggles her relationship with husband Ricardo Myrick with a couple of part-time jobs and graduate studies in creative writing and publishing at the University of Baltimore. "We need to create rituals in our lives, to pause and focus on each other."
Allen traces the dearth of modern-day romance to the disappearance of traditional courtship practices - for example, love-letter writing - and cultural support for them.
"Love-letter writing ... was central to the 'romantic courting culture' of African-Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries," she said. "There were actually courtship etiquette books published during that time that provided advice on love-letter writing [and] how one should address a courter."
Intent on fomenting a love-letter revival, Allen will provide her workshop participants with pens, paper and a lot of enthusiastic encouragement. She'll also introduce them to what she calls the "woo-woo game," an opportunity for people to role-play romantic situations and share some dish on their own strategies for keeping relationships hot.
"We still have that myth that once you get somebody, that's it," Allen said. "No one told me that [when] you get married, that's when the real work begins."
Allen believes the impact of that "work" should not be underestimated. Satisfying romantic relationships at home can affect whole communities as well as couples, she said.
"The more love we can raise, the better," she said. "People are so much nicer when they're in love."
The workshop will be held at the Cork Factory, 302 Federal St., fourth-floor gallery. A $5 donation is suggested.
Gotta Have Art
More events in the Station North district today (for a full schedule, go to www.station north.org):
Finger-painting and free Valentine's Day cookies for kids 3-6, 1 p.m.-5 p.m., American Dime Museum, 1808 Maryland Ave., children free, adults $5
Building Alteration Project:
Art all-day exhibit on the boarded-up windows of an abandoned elementary school, 1634 Guilford Ave.
Collage art by students at Dallas Nicholas Elementary School; reception 3 p.m.-4 p.m., the Cork Factory, 302 Federal St., fourth floor gallery
Live at the Studio:
Latin jazz by Crosse, Reyes and Gaither, 8:30 p.m., Westnorth Studio, 106 W. North Ave., $10; advance reservations recommended