Eighteen Baltimore cultural institutions will receive $2 million from the city over two years to improve their physical buildings, Mayor Brandon Scott announced Tuesday.
The city’s Cultural Spaces Capital Support Fund is administered each year by the Department of Planning. With grants ranging from $50,000 to $200,000, the money will be allocated in fiscal years 2024 and 2025 for arts organizations’ projects like building new performance spaces, repairing roofs and upgrading air systems.
A few grantees described in their applications how planned HVAC projects would benefit visitors’ health and safety, with better ventilation slowing the transmission of COVID-19, said Monica Lewis, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. The American Visionary Art Museum is getting $75,000 to upgrade air-handling units, the Maryland Science Center will use its $100,000 award to replace its air handler and upgrade its temperature control, while Bristol Players and the Fells Point Corner Theatre will together receive $50,000 to replace an HVAC system and heat pump.
Out of 27 applicants, 18 were awarded funding this year, including first-time applicants Black Arts District, Central Baltimore Partnership, Lumina Theater and Mt. Clare Museum House.
Executive Director Lady Brion said the Black Arts District is still determining the details of the three-story facility in the 1900 block of Pennsylvania Avenue that its $200,000 grant will help build. The final result will be informed by community feedback, Brion said, and created along with longtime West Baltimore community organization Intersection of Change.
“What we recognize is that West Baltimore proper doesn’t have many art institutions. There aren’t many galleries, aren’t many art centers,” she said. “There aren’t many large-scale performance centers either.”
Brion said the 1900 block of Pennsylvania will eventually hold an expanded version of Intersection of Change’s Harris Marcus Center, the Black Arts District’s Saana Center and the Upton Boxing Center. “We’re really excited that by the end of this, we’ll have completed this block with arts and entertainment buildings,” she said.
This award to the Black Arts District shows that the city is putting its commitments to equity into practice, Brion said. “These communities are getting support to rebuild and atone for so many years of being forgotten,” she said. “It really means a lot to us. It says a lot that they’re willing to back this work.”
Lumina Theater, another first-time grant recipient adding a cultural space to West Baltimore, will use its $100,000 from the capital support fund to turn a Mill Hill building into a theater and performing arts space.
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Meghan Hackett, Lumina Theater’s executive director and founder, said the award will help her organization provide various art programs to West Baltimore residents, including a community theater, an after-school theater program and a faster-paced summer “boot camp” for kids along with programs for playwrights, singer-songwriters and composers.
“Having this opportunity in Baltimore to have this space, the people on the team are seeing it as a call to service,” Hackett said. “We really believe in the power of the arts to affect how people think and feel about things and we want to use that for good.”
One member of the Lumina Theater team has expertise in using different artistic mediums as a means of working through trauma, another possible program for the space, Hackett said.
Part of the goal of the children’s theater programs will be to “get the kids off the street and onto the stage,” she said. Hackett and her colleagues have decades of theater experience, including teaching kids in kindergarten through 12th grade how to take a show from “soup to nuts,” learning confidence and how to be a team player along the way.
“The first time they hear that round of applause they want to stay on stage forever,” Hackett said.
A panel that included the Baltimore National Heritage Area, Visit Baltimore, the Commission on Historic and Architectural Preservation, the Mayor’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights, the Baltimore Development Corporation, the Planning Department’s Capital Improvement Program team and the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which recused itself from its own application, recommended organizations to receive support from the fund.
“Baltimore’s rich cultural and arts community draws visitors from across our region, state and the nation,” Scott said in a statement. “Our arts and cultural organizations not only preserve our history, they’re an important economic engine for our communities. By supporting these organizations, we are paving the way for Baltimore’s renaissance.”