Arts groups' free enterprise in Oct.

The Baltimore Sun

Bringing back Free Fall Baltimore for a second year, the city and about 85 arts groups are presenting more than 200 free programs throughout October.

"You've got everything from the Baltimore Opera to the Kids on the Hill - it's everywhere," says Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, which is coordinating the monthlong celebration of cultural and economic egalitarianism. "No other city opens the doors of their cultural institutions for free the way Baltimore does."

Last year's first Free Fall was highlighted by free admission to the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum. Both museums, which have remained free since, are offering special programs for this year.

On Oct. 28, the BMA will offer free admission to opening day of its ticketed exhibition, Matisse: Painter as Sculptor. After that, tickets to the exhibit, which brings together 187 pieces from museums throughout the world, will cost $6 to $15.

The Walters, on Oct. 20, will offer a "Festival of Mysteries," focusing on hidden aspects of art, with actors portraying Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson serving as guides.

The approximately 85 participating arts and cultural institutions represent an increase from the 72 that took part last year. An estimated 180,000 cultural lovers took advantage of last year's free offerings, which ran from September through October.

"We learned a lesson last year," Gilmore says. "Two months was good, but it was tough to sustain. The events did fill the schedule, but from a staffing standpoint, it was really difficult. Also, keeping the public relations and the advertising going for two months was tough."

Among the institutions new to Free Fall Baltimore is the Municipal Opera Company of Baltimore, the only African-American opera company in the U.S. On Oct. 26 at the Walters, it will present an evening of music by black composers, including Leslie Adams, William Grant Still and Scott Joplin.

Free Fall Baltimore is funded through a $500,000 grant from the office of Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon.

"Everyone was surprised at the success of Free Fall last year," says Dixon's spokesman, Anthony McCarthy. "The level of engagement and interaction with the institutions and our artisans was so exciting that there was never a thought that we should not invest in another year of this great program."

It isn't only local culture vultures who benefit. Free Fall Baltimore is being marketed heavily to potential tourists, especially via the Internet.

"At a time when a lot of museums throughout the country are raising their costs, offering free admission is a huge selling point for us," says Nancy Hinds, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "This helps us market [Baltimore] as a cultural asset to tourists. Cultural travelers are very lucrative; they spend a lot of money."

For complete event listings and to make reservations, go to

A listing of Free Fall Baltimore events in the Today section yesterday erroneously included a performance of Hairspray at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center. The free performance at the France-Merrick will be Menopause the Musical, 5:30 p.m. Oct. 7 at the theater, 12 N. Eutaw St.The Sun regrets the error.
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