Arts and Culture in Maryland
Maryland has dramatic economic and cultural contrasts from region to region. High-tech companies coexist along family farms, and state-of-the-art performing arts centers share the cultural landscape with folk artists practicing generations-old traditions. Established, professional arts organizations make up only a small portion of the state’s arts and culture scene, while community, alternative, independent, and folk artists compose the majority.
Maryland’s cultural fabric reflects these diverse traditions, but the Maryland State Arts Council saw the need to bolster the arts in many of the state’s communities. The council founded the designation of Maryland’s Arts and Entertainment Districts, and identified 18 communities that could be revitalized by supporting performing, visual, and folk arts. These districts are located in Annapolis, Berlin, Bethesda, Cambridge, Frostburg (the Mountain City Arts and Entertainment District), Salisbury, Cumberland, Denton, Frederick, Elkton, Gateway, Hagerstown, Havre de Grace, Highlandtown, Silver Spring, Snow Hill, Baltimore (the Station North Arts and Entertainment District), and Wheaton.
The Grammy Award-winning Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is Maryland’s premiere ensemble, performing classical and pops series as well as family concerts and festivals. Other notable classical artists in Maryland include Baltimore’s Peabody Institute, which stages 800 music and dance concerts every year, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, and Hagerstown’s Maryland Symphony Orchestra.
The Baltimore Opera filed for bankruptcy in 2008, but the city still operates the Lyric Opera House. Classical ensembles, opera productions, and Broadway-style revues take advantage of the auditorium’s excellent acoustics. Small, innovative companies have risen to fill the gap in Baltimore’s opera scene, including American Opera Theater, Baltimore Opera Theatre, Opera Vivente (performing in English), Baltimore Concert Opera, and The Figaro Project, a group of artists from the Peabody Institute of Music collaborating with outside musicians. In addition, Annapolis Opera is a regional opera company presenting full-staged operas and opera-related events.
Based in Annapolis, Ballet Theatre of Maryland stands out as the state’s first and only professional ballet company. The troupe’s diverse repertoire covers classic ballets, contemporary experimental work, and popular dance.
While historic collections abound in Maryland, art museums are more rare. Baltimore holds the bulk of the state’s art museums, as well as a host of alternative and underground galleries. Two major museums stand out in Baltimore. The Baltimore Museum of Art holds the renowned Cone collection of international modern art. Highlights include paintings and sculpture by Käthe Kollwitz, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Cézanne. Galleries also showcase temporary exhibits and art and objects from around the world. The Walters Art Museum consists of three buildings displaying 30,000 objects spanning pre-dynastic Egypt to the present day, most notably Roman sarcophagi, Greek sculpture, Art Deco jewelry, medieval ivory, Old Master paintings, and European and American artwork.
Other collections, some major and others tightly-focused, round out Baltimore’s visual art offerings. TheReginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture is the East Coast’s largest African-American museum, showing work in themed galleries of Family and Community, Labor that Built a Nation, and Enlightenment. The Contemporary Museum exhibits work that addresses and promotes social change. A towering whirligig marks the entrance of the American Visionary Art Museum, a venue devoted to self-taught artists. Thematic shows and temporary exhibits complement the permanent holdings of paintings, sculpture, mixed media, and assemblages that address topics such as religion, mental health, racism, oppression, and daily life. The Heritage Museum focuses on the history and culture of Africa, African-American people, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Native American people. Geppi’s Entertainment Museum celebrates retro playthings and pop culture with exhibits of toys, cartoon characters, and comics. The James E. Lewis Museum of Art at Morgan State University exhibits African and Oceanic art and artifacts as well as paintings, sculpture, photography, textiles, and works on paper dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Outside Baltimore, some other museums have interesting art collections. Columbia’s African Art Museum of Maryland collects and preserves the art of Africa and hosts lectures, films, workshops, and tours. The F. Brooke Whiting Museum in Cumberland sits within a 1911 bungalow. Holdings include Asian art, 18th-century American furniture, and Tiffany glass. Towson University has the Asian Arts and Cultural Center, with traditional and contemporary Asian art as well as performing arts and educational programming. Washington County Museum of Fine Arts presents traveling exhibits as well as permanent holdings of American art, chamber music concerts, lectures, and films.
Maryland’s music heritage traces back to Native American and American folk sounds, including spirituals, gospel, and Appalachian roots music. In the realm of popular music, some of the most notable Maryland artists include jazz and torch song vocalist Billie Holiday, singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb, vocalist Toni Braxton, avant-garde composer Philip Glass, jazz artist Cab Calloway, Talking Heads front man David Byrne, confessional singer and pianist Tori Amos, and gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur. Other musicians and bands associated with Maryland are The Mamas & the Papas lead singerCass Elliott, experimental rocker Frank Zappa, and doom metal band The Obsessed.
African-American musical styles have predominated in Maryland for generations. The year 1931 saw the formation of the Baltimore Coloured Symphony Orchestra. During the same era, Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Avenue, called The Avenue, became a gathering place for emerging African-American musicians. One such musician, Eubie Blake, earned notoriety for his compositions in popular music and for Broadway musicals. Baltimore’s Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Culture Center pays tribute to the artist with educational programming, concerts, a film series, and gallery exhibits.
THEATER AND PERFORMING ARTS
The performing arts thrive in Maryland. Baltimore holds the highest number and the most diverse of the offerings. Arena Players is the oldest historically black community theater that has performed continuously. Strand Theater produces original work that centers around women actors, writers, designers, and directors. Centerstage is the city’s leading professional company, interpreting classic and contemporary plays. Fluid Movement uses performance art to take on complex subject matter, staging shows in urban spaces in and around Baltimore. Charm City Kitty Club produces work in a cabaret setting that targets and involves the lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. Charm City Art Space hosts independent and alternative artists in theater and music.
Two theater troupes in Annapolis are Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, showcasing Shakespeare and musicals in an open-air theater, and Colonial Players, presenting in a unique theater-in-the-round setting.
Church Hill Theatre, a historic art deco venue on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, hosts live theater, concerts, and children’s programming.
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, located at the University of Maryland College Park, has a multidisciplinary season of the performing arts.
Western Maryland’s only regional professional theater, Cumberland Theatre, presents musicals and dramas.
Olney Theatre Center for the Arts stages regional productions that emphasize works in the 20th-century American canon as well as new work and musical theater.
Strathmore, in North Bethesda, is known as a "campus for the arts," presenting a lively season of concerts, performances, art exhibits, afternoon teas, and family-oriented festivals.
Frostburg State University’s Fine and Performing Arts Series hosts over 100 productions, some by students and others by touring dance troupes, musicians, and theater groups from around the world.
Hagerstown’s Maryland Theatre has a season of theater, dance, film, music, student productions, and visiting performing artists.
Rep Stage, based in Columbia, stages professional interpretations of classics and new work at the Horowitz Center and Howard Community College.
Founded 1987, the Columbia Festival of the Arts spans 15 days and celebrates art in all its disciplines. Local, national, and international performers participate in the events, exhibits, workshops, and seminars.
The Maryland Film Office describes the state as "American in Miniature," at least as portrayed through film and television. HBO series The Wire reveals the gritty street life of the inner city, while Walt Disney film Tuck Everlasting (2002) visits Maryland’s scenic period towns.
Baltimore-born director, screenwriter, actor, artist, and journalist John Waters (b. 1946) identifies so strongly with his hometown that he sets all his films there. Always campy and often trashy, Waters’ movies explore subculture and pop culture. His most famous film, Hairspray (1988), was adapted into a Broadway musical, which was then adapted into another musical film. Other significant Waters movies include Pink Flamingos (1972), starring female impersonator Divine (1945–1988); Polyester (1981), which came accompanied with a scratch and sniff card to smell at key scenes during the story; Cry-Baby (1990); Serial Mom (1994); and Pecker (1998). As of 2010, New Line Cinema has announced that Waters will create Hairspray 2: White Lipstick.
Other movies filmed in Maryland or featuring Maryland include crime flick The Untouchables (1987), comedy drama Diner (1982), horror movie The Blair Witch Project (1999), gross-out comedyThere’s Something About Mary (1998), action movie True Lies (1994), romantic comedySleepless in Seattle (1993), family drama Fly Away Home, thriller In the Line of Fire (1993), crime drama ...And Justice for All (1979), and Barry Levinson’s 2009 election documentaryPoliWood.
Silver Spring’s American Film Institute is a national arts organization focused on preserving and exploring the possibilities of film as well as television and digital media. The institute hosts many film-related events including panels, lectures, discussions, and performances.
Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) was born in Talbot County. The minister, abolitionist, woman’s suffragist, and orator escaped from slavery and went on to pen his autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), as well as several other works.
Other writers associated with Maryland include Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Stephen Dunn (b. 1939), essayist Barbara Hurd (b. 1949), best-selling romance and suspense author Nora Roberts (b. 1950), hard-boiled crime fiction writer James M. Cain (1892–1977), Star-Spangled Banner author Francis Scott Key (1779–1843), National Book Award-winner Alice McDermott (b. 1953), short fiction and television writer Rafael Alvarez (b. 1958), Sophie Kerr Prize-winner Christine Lincoln (b. 1966), best-selling crime novelist Laura Lippman (b. 1959), the "Sage of Baltimore" H.L. Mencken (1880–1956), light verse poet Ogden Nash (1902–1971), suspense writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), Pulitzer Prize-winning author Upton Sinclair (1878–1968), avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), feminist poet Adrienne Rich (b. 1929), suspense novelist Tom Clancy (b. 1947), crime fiction writer Dashiell Hammet (1894–1961), and postmodern novelist John Barth (b. 1930).
Charles Wilson Peale (1741–1827), born in Queen Anne’s County, was working as a saddler when he traveled to Virginia and saw a well-rendered portrait. He decided to learn the art form, completing several portraits as well as documenting patriotic events during the Revolutionary War.
Jeff Koons (b. 1955), who studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art, walks the tightrope between pop culture and fine art with his enormous reproductions of everyday objects. His sleek metallic sculptures of balloon animals and his porcelain statues of Michael Jackson have inspired critics to connect him with artists like Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst.
Other artists associated with Maryland include abstract expressionist painter Clyfford Still (1904–1980) and action painter Elaine Hamilton-O’Neal (b. 1920).
Maryland has countless historic sites and architectural gems, ranging from simple Colonial structures to lavish estates that once operated as plantations. Baltimore has several notable structures. The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center serves as the cornerstone of the city’s westside renaissance. The 1914 structure hosts performing arts throughout the year. An Italianate mansion operates as the Evergreen Museum and Library with a collection of post-Impressionist paintings, antique books, Tiffany glass, Japanese netsuke, and Baltimore’s only private theater. One of the nation’s best examples of federal period architecture and a National Historic Landmark, the 1801Homewood Museum illuminates early 19th-century life in Baltimore.
The African-American Heritage House Museum in La Plata exhibits artifacts from the era of slavery and chronicles landmark contributions by Charles County’s African-American citizens.
The historic city of Annapolis holds several significant architectural attractions. The Banneker-Douglass Museum acts as a repository of African-American heritage and culture. The 1874 museum building once operated as the Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Georgian-styleGovernment House is a colonial mansion that serves as the residence of the state governor. The 1774Hammond-Harwood House represents Anglo-Palladian style architecture, and exhibits paintings by Charles Wilson Peale.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program funded the development of what is now theGreenbelt Museum, a National Historic Landmark community. Self-guided tours cover walking paths and late 1930s art deco architecture.
Historic London Town House and Gardens in Edgewater features guided tours of the reconstructed 18th-century Brown House and surrounding gardens.
In Towson, the Hampton National Historic Site Gardens includes a farm, grounds, and one-time slave quarters.
Hollywood’s Sotterley Plantation sits on the banks of the Patuxent River. The three century-old main residence is surrounded by nature trails, elaborate landscaping, and outbuildings, including a rare surviving slave cabin.
In Essex, Ballestone Manor House shows American decorative arts dating from 1780 through 1880 in a historic house museum.
The 1745 Belair Mansion, located in Bowie, features decorations and furnishings chronicling 250 years of state history.
Chestertown’s Charles Sumner G.A.R. Hall, built in 1908 by former slaves and other war veterans, is one of the two African-American Civil War veteran’s halls still standing in the country.
Dorchester County Historical Society operates La Grange Plantation, an 18th-century Georgian home. The grounds include an herb garden, smokehouse, and stable, while an on-site museum exhibits vintage farm equipment, carriages, Indian artifacts, and antique furnishings.
Driving tours around the Chesapeake Bay pass many sites linked to the Underground Railroad. The town of Cambridge and its environs played a significant role in helping escaped slaves to freedom. TheHarriet Tubman Museum celebrates the life and legacy of the woman who was called "The Moses of Her People." The Sandy Spring Slave Museum spotlights the heritage of African Americans and the Underground Railroad.
HANDICRAFT AND FOLK ART
Handicraft and folk traditions take many forms in Maryland, but Native American culture is particularly predominant. At Waldorf’s American Indian Cultural Center and Piscataway Indian Museum, exhibits explore Native Americans’ daily lives before European contact. The Baltimore American Indian Center houses a museum and sponsors cultural workshops.
The craft of carving wildlife decoys from wood has many practitioners in Maryland, largely due to many towns’ proximity to the Chesapeake Bay. The Havre de Grace Decoy Museum features a sizable collection of decoys, and the Eastern Shore communities host various decoy-oriented festivals.
In Snow Hill, the Furnace Town Living Heritage Museum recreates a 19th-century iron manufacturing village in Pocomoke Forest. Artisans in period dress enact daily life activities amid exhibits and nature trails.
A series of log cabins make up Grantsville’s Spruce Forest Artisan Village. Inside the historic cabins, artists demonstrate woodcarving, pottery, weaving, and other handicrafts. Rural arts and crafts from the late 19th century and early 20th century form the focus of exhibits and activities at Havre de Grace’sSteppingstone Museum, situated within a stone farmhouse.
The culture of boats, boating, and fishing is also celebrated in Maryland. At the Upper Bay Museum in North East, artifacts and objects such as boats, decoys, fishing gear, oars, guns, and sink boxes chronicle the experiences of regional watermen. Rock Hall’s Waterman’s Museum pays tribute to Chesapeake Bay crabbing, fishing, and oyster-tonguing.
Maryland’s agrarian history is explored at sites such as Kennedyville’s Kent Museum, which contains agricultural machinery and artifacts of rural life, and Boonsboro’s Washington County Rural Heritage Museum, a collection of 2,000 pieces of equipment and artifacts used in the 1700s and 1800s.
HISTORIC ART MOVEMENTS
Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art has served as the breeding ground for several noteworthy art movements. The year 1929 saw the formation of the Society of Baltimore Independent Artists, under the leadership of professor Charles Walther. The group stressed modernism over classical realism. In the 1940s, a group of students formed the Maroger School of painting, inspired by the realist painting techniques of the institute’s professor, French artist Jacques Maroger (1884–1962), who was the former director of Paris’ Laboratory of the Louvre. The artists, among them Earl Hoffman (1928–1992) and Ann Schuler (1918-2010), eventually became known as the Baltimore Realists. Schuler went on to help establish Baltimore’s Schuler School of Fine Arts, where she taught until she died.
-World Trade Press