“A Lot of Heart in This Space”

UMBC celebrated the grand opening of the university’s Performing Arts and Humanities Building on September 19, 2012, with “New Space”—a thought-provoking discussion among 14 of Baltimore’s most innovative cultural luminaries.

Co-presented by the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (GBCA), the event showcased the new building as a catalyst in forging vital partnerships between the university and Greater Baltimore community. Tom Hall, WYPR radio host and Baltimore Choral Arts Society director, moderated the discussion of how new spaces inspire us to think, create and engage in unexpected ways.

Professors Wendy Salkind, theatre, and Jessica Berman, English, shared their appreciation for how the new building emphasizes—in a profound, public way—the priority UMBC and Maryland place on liberal arts education.

Doreen Bolger, executive director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, and George Ciscle, founder of The Contemporary Museum, reflected on physical, digital and transitory spaces, and how each can create new opportunities for conversations about art and society. Bolger found our mantra—“Think. Create. Engage.”—to be particularly salient, provoking important questions about the public relevance of museums.
Fred Lazarus, president of the Maryland Institute College of Art, has responded to that same concern through founding and growing Baltimore’s annual Artscape festival and promoting the arts-based revitalization of Station North, a neighborhood where speaker Timothy Nohe, UMBC associate professor of visual arts, has also been highly engaged. Lazarus commented, “Space is the envelope that allows exciting creativity to happen,” whether organically, as in the case of Station North, or intentionally, as with the new Performing Arts and Humanities Building.

David Mitchell, assistant artistic director of Arena Players, and Vincent Lancisi, founder of Everyman Theatre, focused on the importance of diversity in the arts. Collaboration among artists with different perspectives, they argued, can be transformational.

“I really feel that the arts enable us to see the human experience better,” said Sharayna Christmas Rose, executive director of MUSE 360. She spoke of bringing young Baltimore actors to African diaspora communities across the U.S. and Caribbean to perform in public spaces and engage with new audiences. Bashi Rose, co-founder of Nommo Theatre, also helps artists reach beyond spatial limitations. Rose works within prisons where, he says, performers must find something inside themselves that can transform their environment into a “space of freedom.”
Kalima Young, coordinator of The Baltimore Art + Justice Project, and Nicole King, assistant professor of American Studies at UMBC, share a passion for mapping as a tool to interpret space. Young uses demographic maps to connect local artists to issues they can address and social advocates to artists interested in their causes, in order to promote “stronger, more relevant work that impacts structural issues in this community.” King’s mapmaking centers on storytelling: recording and sharing the cultural history of Baltimore’s Baybrook community.

Inhabiting a space, King reminded the audience, fills it with meaning and turns it into a place. And places have power. “The places we inhabit shape the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves,” said Kevin Griffin Moreno ’96, history, founder and host of Potluck Storytelling.

Final speaker Marvin Pinkert, executive director of The Jewish Museum of Maryland, explored how new stories reshape our thinking about old places, and old stories enable us to think about new spaces. Beyond peeling paint on the walls, what distinguishes an old space from a new one for him is experience—what the building has witnessed and who has inhabited it over time. As far as UMBC’s newest theatre goes, Pinkert shared, “There’s going to be a lot of heart in this space.”

Visit SoundCloud to hear all of the audio clips from "New Space" and the theatre's inaugural musical performance by Governor Martin O'Malley.