As 2009 begins in an uncertain economic climate, local museums and galleries are launching a variety of initiatives - from 200th birthday tributes for Edgar Allan Poe to a Bible story told with comic-strip art - to draw visitors in the new year.
One reason for the diversity of offerings is the mix of groups and organizations that present art in and around Baltimore. They include everything from commercial galleries to nonprofit venues to full-fledged museums supported with public and private funds.
One commercial gallery owner moved his business this month from the suburbs to Fells Point in an effort to attract more of the tourists visiting the area.
"I've already sold four Amy Lamb photographs ... and I haven't even officially opened yet, so that's a good omen," Steven Scott, owner of Steven Scott Gallery (stevenscottgallery.com), said before opening his relocated gallery last week in the former Fells Point Visitor Center at 808 S. Ann St.
Scott ran a gallery on North Charles Street from 1988 to 2002, when he moved to Owings Mills. Among the artists he represents are Robert Andriulli, Helen Glazer and Annie Leibovitz. Scott said he's looking forward to being back in the city and getting more visits from people strolling along Baltimore's waterfront.
"My artists were thrilled because it's a more tourist-friendly area," he said. "More people will be coming through. And it's a gorgeous, soaring space."
At the other end of the spectrum is Creative Alliance (creativealliance.org), a nonprofit art center in the converted Patterson movie theater at 3134 Eastern Ave. One show opening there this weekend features the work of resident artist Megan Hildebrandt, a Michigan-born painter who spent much of last year roaming the streets of Highlandtown, offering to clean people's front steps as a way to keep alive a fading Baltimore tradition.
Dressed in 1940s-era washer-woman garb and carrying cans of Bon Ami cleanser, Hildebrandt, 24, knocked on doors to ask if residents wanted their steps washed. The resulting exhibit, The Rumors Are True: Megan Hildebrandt & Christine Sajecki, includes a video and photos of Hildebrandt's cleaning adventures, paintings by Hildebrandt that depict some of East Baltimore's early personalities, and paintings by resident artist Sajecki. The show opens with a reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and runs through Feb. 21. About 6 p.m. Saturday, Hildebrandt will give a talk about her step-scrubbing adventures and other observations about Highlandtown and its history.
Somewhere between these extremes is Gallery Four (galleryfour.net), on the fourth floor of the H&H; Building at 405 W. Franklin St., on Baltimore's west side. It's run by a collective of artists who live and work in the building. The most recent show, Asterism, featured paintings and sculptures by three out-of-town artists and two local artists. The mix reflects the curators' desire to present the work of emerging Baltimore-based artists "within the context of the larger contemporary art community."
Eddie Winter, a photographer and member of the collective that runs Gallery Four, said that while the group is certainly pleased whenever art is sold at Gallery Four, its chief goal is to mount creative exhibits and give artists valuable exposure. "We try to approach our shows the way a museum would, but with a shoestring budget. Then people will say, 'Can you imagine what we could do if we had a budget?' "
Winter said the group benefits from having a large space with relatively low rent, and members of the collective make most of their own repairs and renovations, which helps keep costs down. He said the best way to create interest and draw visitors can be summed up in two words: "strong shows."
Baltimore's museums, meanwhile, have an impressive lineup of events planned for early 2009.
The big show at the Baltimore Museum of Art (artbma.org), 10 Art Museum Drive, is all about the big top. A Circus Family: Picasso to Leger (Feb. 22-May 17) is an exhibit about "daring feats, exotic acts and colorful circus characters," as seen through the eyes of Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger and other 20th-century artists fascinated by the spectacle of the circus and its performers. As part of the exhibit, the museum will erect a circus tent in one of the high-ceilinged Thalheimer galleries. Tickets go on sale Feb. 15.
At the Walters Art Museum (thewalters.org), 600 N. Charles St., exhibits during the first half of 2009 will include Romance of the Rose: Visions of Love in Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts (Jan. 24-April 19); The Saint John's Bible: A Modern Vision Through Medieval Methods (Feb. 15-May 24); and Herman Maril at the Walters Art Museum (June 28-Aug. 30).
Here is a list of nine more exhibits and events coming up this year.
1. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. events: : The Maryland Institute College of Art (www.mica.edu) will hold Unity Week 2009, celebrating King, Monday through Jan. 23. One highlight will be a talk Jan. 23 by New York-based photographer and mixed-media artist Renee Cox, who uses her own image and body to celebrate "black womanhood" and criticize a society she often views as racist and sexist. Later this winter, MICA galleries will feature works by Laure Drogoul and Philip Koch, among others, in its galleries.
2. Cowboys and convenience stores: : Port Discovery children's museum (portdiscovery.org) at 35 Market Place explores the life of an African-American cowboy in a traveling exhibit that opens Saturday and runs through May 17. Joshua's Journey: A Black Cowboy Rides the Chisholm Trail, is based on the Scholastic book The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy.
On Jan. 23, the museum will open a permanent exhibit called The Royal Farms Convenience Store and Fill'er Up Station. Featuring a model version of a Royal Farms store and gas station, it's intended to help teach kids "how to make healthy choices in a convenient world," according to museum spokeswoman Kate Hendrickson.
3. Poe bicentennial: : To mark the 200th anniversary of the Jan. 19 birthday of legendary poet and one-time Baltimore resident Edgar Allan Poe, the city has organized Nevermore 2009 (nevermore2009.com), a yearlong celebration of the writer's life and works. It includes movies, lectures, toasts, wine tastings, meals, art exhibitions and theatrical performances.
On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Westminster Hall and Burying Ground at 519 W. Fayette St., where Poe is buried, will be the setting for a celebration featuring an exhibit of Poe artifacts and performances.
Beginning Monday, the Enoch Pratt Free Library system's central library, 400 Cathedral St., will present Edgar Allan Poe: More Than a Poet, an exhibit featuring photographs, letters and other memorabilia from the Pratt's Poe Collection. The library has also launched a high school "Poe-ster" contest, with plans to display the winning entry in May.
4. Food as art: : Food becomes the inspiration for art in Meat & Sugar, an exhibit that runs through Feb. 13 at the Julio Fine Arts Gallery on the campus of Loyola College in Maryland. It features installations by Stewart Watson and paintings by Mike Geno. An opening reception and artists' talk will take place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 22.
Meat & Sugar is part of Loyola's 2009 Humanities Symposium, "Communing with Food." Watson's installations feature sculptural pieces made from candy, sugar and corn syrup cast into large molds and combined with unedible materials such as steel, iron and stone. Geno, who once served as an apprentice meat-cutter, has created still-life paintings of different cuts of meat. Call 410-617-2799.
5. Biblical art: : From March 5 to July 26, the Jewish Museum of Maryland (jewishmuseummd.org), 15 Lloyd St., will present Drawing on Tradition: The Book of Esther as Graphic Novel. It's a retelling of the Book of Esther in comic-strip form by artist J.T. Waldman.
6. DTV: : By law, television stations nationwide must switch from the old method of transmitting signals, known as analog TV, to digital television, or DTV, by Feb. 17. From noon to 1 p.m. Jan. 24, representatives from the Baltimore Museum of Industry and WMAR-TV, Channel 2, will gather in the museum's Communications Gallery to discuss the transition and answer questions. The museum is at 1415 Key Highway. Call 410-727-4808, ext.132.
7. Cells: : Fresh from the success of its best-attended show ever, Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds 2: The Original Exhibition of Real Human Bodies, the Maryland Science Center (marylandsciencecenter.org) will open the permanent exhibit Cells: The Universe Inside Us on March 28. An exhibit called Chinasaurs, about dinosaurs in China, opens in May, and an exhibit about Leonardo da Vinci opens in the fall.
8. : Baker Artist Awards: Sometime after March 1, the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance will announce the winners of the first Baker Artist Awards program, in which eight artists representing a variety of disciplines will receive a total of $80,000 to support their work. The deadline for nominations and voting is Feb. 1. Go to bakerartistawards.org for more information.
9. Bike racks as art: : By late March, Baltimore's Station North Arts and Entertainment District is expected to become an outdoor gallery for artist-designed bike racks, as winners of a national competition begin installing their "functional sculptures."