Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Desolation into Hope: Example Westside Theater Initiative Le Mondo

The 400 block of Howard Streets is a sad affair, on the east and on the west side. If it all goes by plan, things should look quite different just a couple of years from now.
the 400 block of Howard Street, future home of  Le Mondo 

Three city owned buildings have been awarded by BDC to Ted Rouse and the Le Mondo Theater team. Since then one of the buildings has caught fire and now isn't part of the redevelopment anymore, the team acquired an adjacent building on the market instead 
The sad rear view of the backside of 400 block
of  Howard Street (photo: Archplan)

Seen from the conference room back window of my office, the roof of the burnt building remains charred, untouched and open to the elements. When I recently met with one of the mayoral contenders with this ruin in plain view, it elicited an incredulous "isn't the City going to do anything about this?" (I asked BDC CEO Bill Cole and was assured that they are "actively working" on the matter.)

The rear of the buildings on Hoard Street is an eyesore even more than the front. The setting is decrepit enough to make one weep, were it not for the crane visible in the same frame, attributable to actually happening Westside progress on Mulberry Street.

The hope that comes from plans cannot be seen on a photo but can spring from eating lunch with Le Mondo's theater group creative directors as I did last week. 

All three, Carly J Bales, Evan Moritz and Ric Royer are vested on the Westside, 

Ric is operating a venue as a tenant on Park Avenue called "Psychic Readings".  I was a bit incredulous about the name and imagined somebody reading Tara cards, not something one wouldn't find in Baltimore but not what I expected from Ric. But it seems the title is tongue in cheek and alludes to the more subtle read of reality  performances in his venue express.
Psychic Readings is dedicated to the advancement of a higher histrionics through exaggerated examples of life and death. Psychic Readings was formed in 1999 to challenge the decline of aliveness in live performance. (Website)
Carly is vested in the EMP Collective on West Baltimore Street located on the first floor of a cast iron Building previously occupied by Sarah Doherty's gallery as as part of a Downtown Partnership storefront grant.
EMP COLLECTIVE also runs and manages EMP, a multi-use arts space in downtown Baltimore, where they produce their own varied work and regular programming as well as playing host to a slew of talented local and visiting artists. “A hub of artistic activity” recognized as Best Arts Collective and Best Multi-Use Arts Space (Baltimore City Paper), EMP has been lauded as one of the boldest “visions to change Baltimore” (Baltimore Magazine).
The third partner is the Annex Theater with Evan Moritz, also operating in the Westside on Park Avenue. (after being in Station North's Chicken Box).
Baltimore Annex Theater is committed to producing plays which constantly expand the notions of experimentation, theatre craft and community involvement.
The Le Mondo project is envisioned as a performing arts incubator with works and studio spaces, practice and performances spaces, workshops, living spaces and a cafe in 16,000 sqft of space. Between the complicated agreement with BDC for the city "disposition properties" and a building acquired on the "free market", the Le Mondo group and its supporters have embarked on an ambitious and costly project that will be implemented in stages. 

The Le Mondo project stands for an entirely different approach to the revitalization of the Westside than the grandiose BDC approaches of the past from Centerpoint (a success) to the Superblock (a failure). In the process of this new approach all sides have to learn a lot. 

Artists have to learn to be developers, owners and folks with equity that will eventually give them a much stronger stand in a possibly gentrified future, avoiding the usual fate of artists that were first pioneers to then get kicked out when an area turned around.

But BDC and developers have to learn as well. The lessons? The Westside needs to thrive on local initiatives and many small entrepreneurs that collectively make the old Westside a new destination that is uniquely Baltimore. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

see also these related Westside articles on this blog:

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