In a vibrant city known for it's vital cultural scene and variety of entertainment options, perhaps nowhere does the creative spark flare more brightly than within Baltimore's three state-designated Arts & Entertainment (A&E) Districts:
- The Station North A&E District, with its many galleries and studios, is found just steeps away from Amtrak's Penn Station and the Maryland Institute College of Art.
- The Highlandtown A&E District, "affectionately nicknamed "ha!", is where creative expression takes place among one of the city's most culturally diverse neighborhoods.
- The new Bromo Tower A&E District features an iconic, historic structure around which eclectic visual and performing arts venues have sprouted.
Station North A&E District
Promoted as “Your Stop for the Eclectic,” Station North is part of an economically diverse community in the heart of Baltimore. It also holds a special place in the hearts of arts aficionados for being the first area in the city to achieve A&E status.
Located along the Charles Street National Scenic Byway, Station North spans the communities of Charles North, Greenmount West and Barclay. An influx of new arts groups and several galleries has resulted in some spectacular storefronts. Amid traditional Baltimore row homes are more than a dozen restaurants serving everything from crepes to Caribbean dishes and pizza to Irish pub fare. Some building facades feature an exciting collection of murals by international artists, which alone is worth a walking tour.
Among no fewer than 15 theaters and performance venues in the district, the historic Charles Theater is a focal point of the annual Maryland Film Festival. The Single Carrot delivers a full complement of innovative and critically acclaimed ensemble productions and the Strand Theater Company celebrates women’s diverse views with Artistic Director Rain Pryor, daughter of comic legend Richard Pryor. Meanwhile, the Everyman Theatre – a long-time staple of the local arts scene – is moving in January to the Bromo Tower A&E District, but venues with intriguing names like Glass Mind, Load of Fun, the Copycat and Run of the Mill keep the Station North arts tradition alive and well.
Among events that shine a bright spotlight on the district are Artscape, an annual summer treat that is the largest free public arts festival in the nation, and Final Fridays, a series of celebrations that fill one evening each month with music, food, artistic expression and more. Of course, other activities regularly offer additional opportunities to listen, laugh, dine and dance: There’s a jazz lunch one day, stand-up comedy the next, experimental music around the corner and a DJ spinning hip-hop sounds just down the road.
Highlandtown A&E District
Encompassing Highlandtown, Patterson Park and portions of Canton and Greektown, Highlandtown Arts has an interesting mix of galleries, artist studios and Southeast Baltimore’s largest collection of retail and industrial spaces. The area also benefits from several active community, neighborhood and merchants associations.
ha! is home to the innovative Creative Alliance, a group of artists, educators, community organizers and audiences that, in their words, “aim to keep it loose, try new things and get people talking.” The Creative Alliance annually organizes hundreds of engaging events, from indie film screenings and cocktail conversations with a local mixologist to flamenco dance performances and free, family art-making fun.
Just about any time of the year around ha!, you can catch exciting activities such as the Great Halloween Lantern Parade, a farmer’s market and “artket,” studio tours, Sculpture in the Park, a wine festival and a basement bar tour. Patterson Park, once the country’s largest urban park, is a historic and cultural centerpiece of the district: All around the park’s eye-catching, 19th-century Pagoda, programs and events are held that include PNC’s Concerts in the Park, a youth fishing festival, sports competitions and Audubon nature-oriented activities for the whole family.
Bromo Tower A&E District
What began with the inventor of a headache remedy is now a central figure in the renaissance of downtown Baltimore’s Westside arts scene. More than a century ago, Captain Isaac E. Emerson, the man behind Bromo-Seltzer antacid, built a 15-story tower modeled after Italy’s Palazzo Vecchio. Now, thanks largely to the efforts of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the tower is occupied by state-of-the-art studio space for visual and literary artists.
The Bromo Tower casts a long shadow that reaches a number of other Westside sites important to Baltimore arts and culture. Top Broadway touring productions can be seen at the France Merrick Performing Arts Center at the Hippodrome Theatre, while the 1st Mariner Arena regularly fills thousands of seats for special events and concerts featuring stars such as Rihanna and Carrie Underwood.
The newest addition to the Tower A&E District is the Everyman Theatre, opening in January 2013. Formerly part of the Station North district, Everyman is making the move to a venue that was known as The Empire when it hosted vaudeville performances back in 1910. It later became The Palace – controversial for its burlesque shows – and then the Town Theatre, which once welcomed actor Jimmy Stewart and director Frank Capra for an “It’s a Wonderful Life” screening. The venue has been empty for many years, but, with Everyman’s arrival (a Grand Opening Celebration Week kicks off January 14, 2013), actors will once again enliven the space.
The Tower A&E District is bounded to the north by Mount Vernon and includes an interesting mix of cultural institutions, such as the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center, Maryland Historical Society and National Dentistry Museum.