NewsTrust Baltimore

Sharp-eyed readers — or at least those who read past the first couple of sentences of each post — will notice a new widget on the sidebar.

As an enthusiastic supporter of NewsTrust Baltimore, I am proud to direct Unsung Baltimore viewers to this bold and much-needed experiment to engage local residents in media literacy and criticism.

Simply put, NT Baltimore invites everyone with web access to read, review, and comment on journalism by local news outlets. While membership is free, subscribers must register using their real names, which reduces the risk of drive-by trolling and incendiary posts that sadly infest the comments threads of even reputable and established news sites. Members not only rate news stories on accuracy, fairness, context, and other indicators, but they can rate each other’s reviews as well.

For me, one of the coolest aspects of this application is that it resembles a game. The more articles you review, the more comments you post, and the more peer ratings you give and receive, the more of a “trusted member” you become. By being an active participant, you can move from someone who rates articles, to a peer reviewer, to an editor, to a group host, to a content producer in your own right.

One of the goals of this project is therefore to promote transparency, accountability, responsibility, thoughtfulness, and civility on the parts of journalists, the publications they work for, the people and institutions they report on, and local news consumers.

NewsTrust was founded in 2005 by Fabrice Florin, a former news producer and software developer who helped produce MTV News, Macromedia’s Shockwave, and a number of online games. NT Baltimore, which was launched in January 2011 with the support of the Open Society Foundations, is the first branch of NewsTrust dedicated to journalism from a geographically targeted news market.

The pilot phase of the project is for three months, with the hope that the initiative will continue indefinitely, based on funding and community response.

In keeping with the theme of this blog, the articles that appear in the widget to the right are exclusively about the Baltimore community.

Go ahead and sign up. It’s fun. And it’s valuable.

Action Alert: How (and why) to contact your reps about arts funding


The Maryland General Assembly is entering the home stretch of the 2011 legislative session. Right now your elected officials are making some tough fiscal decisions, trying to decide what types of public funding should be cut in order to meet our state’s constitutionally mandated balanced budget requirement.

One of the many items on the chopping block is the Arts Preservation Fund, which provides modest but important amounts of state aid for local arts initiatives. If the arts are important to you, take a moment to read this action alert from Maryland Citizens for the Arts and contact the key delegates on the budget conference committee today.

Here are some tips for contacting your elected representatives:

  1. Be polite. Whatever you might think of politicians, they have a tough job, so be nice and thank them for doing it.
  2. Say what you want up front. Before you even get into the text of your message, name the bill or budget item and what you’re asking of the policymakers (e.g., “Support HB 0000 – The Puppies Are Cute Act of 2011″)
  3. Personalize it. Borrowing someone else’s talking points are fine, but you should always include something from your direct experience. That way it sounds less like a form letter.
  4. Be specific. Don’t just say that you support HB 0000 because puppies are cute. Say exactly why you think puppies are cute. If you like, it never hurts to back up those sorts of claims with research.
  5. Repeat the ask. Right as you close the letter, say again what it is that you want the policymakers to do.
  6. Include your name, address, and phone number.

Generally speaking, it’s better for you to contact your own representatives instead of officials from some other district. But on something like the state budget, the most important legislators are the budget conferees, so they’re the ones you want to target.

Finally, remember two things:

  • Elected officials always pay attention to communications from constituents.
  • If they don’t hear from you, they think you’re happy.

Below is the letter I just sent to the budget conferees regarding funding for the arts.

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March 29, 2011

To: Hon. James Proctor, Jr.; Hon. Adrienne A. Jones; Hon. Michael E. Busch; Hon. Norman Conway; Hon. John L. Bohanan

Subject: Please Concur With Senate Position on Arts Funding

Esteemed Delegates:

I am writing as a proud Maryland resident and supporter of the arts to urge you and your fellow legislators to concur with the State Senate’s position on the Arts Preservation Fund for FY 2012.

As a longtime resident of Baltimore City, I can see firsthand the impact that the arts have made on the life of our community. Over the past decade, dozens of young and not-so-young artists who in the past would have chosen to leave Baltimore for other cities, have chosen instead to remain and produce art right here in Maryland. Many of these artists receive support from the Maryland State Arts Council and other public sources of arts funding.

Witnessing so much art being produced and consumed in the Baltimore region and throughout Maryland is not only thrilling for me as someone who appreciates the arts. It is also exciting because of its potential economic impact.

Here are a few examples from around the State.

1) The Station North Arts District in Baltimore has transformed an economically depressed area of Baltimore City into a thriving hub of activity. The art being produced in Station North is drawing residents who otherwise never would have thought of visiting that community and spending their money there.

Two weeks ago I attended a play produced by Single Carrot Theatre, an acclaimed dramatic ensemble that chose Maryland as its base. Before the show I dined at a restaurant across the street from the theater. The restaurant was packed with theatergoers. Single Carrot receives support from the Maryland State Arts Council.

2) The Avalon Theater in historic Easton has become a destination location for nationally acclaimed musicians and for their fans. I recently traveled to Easton from Baltimore to watch a Canadian band perform at the Avalon, and was extremely impressed by the venue and by the local restaurant at which my friends and I dined prior to the show. Through the Avalon Foundation, the Avalon Theater also receives support from the Maryland State Arts Council.

3) In February I attended the launch of the Frederick Film Festival, which is gaining increasing recognition for the quality of the films it annually screens. The reception and concert that marked the festival’s launch were hosted by Brewer’s Alley, a Frederick dining institution. The Frederick Film Festival receives support from the Maryland State Arts Council.

State funding for the arts not only helps create a thriving, culturally vibrant Maryland with creative opportunities for all. It also helps to stimulate local economies and generates jobs for creative people who wish to contribute to the health of our state.

I deeply appreciate your past support of arts in Maryland and I call upon you to show the same spirit of support in this fiscally challenging year. Please vote to concur with the Senate and keep $500,000 for State arts funding in the budget.

Thank you for your kind consideration of this request and thank you for all you do for Maryland.

Sincerely,

Kevin Griffin Moreno

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Scotty Walsh and Port Discovery join with Westport students to make art

Scotty Walsh speaks prior to the mural unveiling


When Scotty Walsh found out that art had been cut from the curriculum at Westport Academy, a k-8 public school in a working class neighborhood in South Baltimore, he decided to do something about it.

A street performer, accomplished vaudevillian, and the visual arts specialist for Port Discovery Children’s Museum, Walsh partnered with Westport Academy to create an eight-week, after-school arts program to engage students in painting. The result of that effort was on display at Port Discovery yesterday, as the young artists unveiled a colorful mural in front of media representatives, parents, museum officials, and special guests gathered in the museum’s art room.

Scotty Walsh and Bonnie Crockett with Westport Academy students in front of their painting.

“Art really made all of the difference for me when I was a kid, so I’ve never forgotten the importance of art in the lives of children,” said Walsh in a museum press release. “I think it’s especially important to develop art programs and hopefully reach some of the children that need art in their lives.”

The program was embraced by administrators at Westport Academy, where 83 percent of students are eligible for the federal free lunch program, according to the Maryland State Department of Education. The school serves a historically African-American community with a once-thriving economy which nosedived as businesses closed down or left Baltimore in the ’70′s, ’80′s, and ’90′s.

To jump start the painting project, Walsh sought funding from Patrick Turner, a prominent local developer who hopes to reverse the economic fortunes of the neighborhood with an ambitious $35 million waterfront redevelopment project. Walsh also reached out to Bonnie Crockett of Westport Community Partnerships and to acclaimed Chattanooga-based sculptor John Henry, who plans to install a large-scale work in the Westport waterfront space.

Henry spoke to the Westport students who gathered for yesterday’s mural unveiling, calling them “the next generation of creative leaders.” Each of the eight children who completed the after-school program received a certificate signed by the sculptor.

Sculptor John Henry speaks to the young artists

As the small crowd waited for the television news crew to arrive, Walsh led the children – who seemed to be between the ages of 5 and 10 – in a song and dazzled them with magic acts.



The students also drew self-portraits, taking inspiration from the self-portraits of famous artists that covered the walls.

The 5′ x 10′ painting will reside in Port Discovery’s StudioWorkshop exhibit space.

Faces of Homelessness


Here’s something cool that was brought to my attention by my friends over at Healthcare for the Homeless.

If you or your organization is interested in learning more about homelessness from people who have direct experience with it, contact the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau – Baltimore.

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From: Lindsay Callahan Vanderheiden, Healthcare for the Homeless

Founded by the National Coalition for the Homeless out of Washington D.C., the “Faces of Homelessness” Speakers’ Bureau is a public education program about homelessness and what can be done to end it. The speakers are individuals who have personally experienced homelessness, and are the true experts on the topic. The Bureau builds opportunities for the speakers to advocate for themselves and others and to build bridges within the community. In 2009, the “Faces” Bureau spoke to approximately 390 groups – a combined audience of over 20,500 people from over 40 states. Currently the “Faces of Homelessness” Speakers’ Bureau is based out of 16 states in the U.S.

Using their own experiences, our diverse speakers put a human “face” on homelessness dispelling the stereotypes many people have regarding persons experiencing homelessness. By fostering an environment of self-worth, respect and understanding for all people, the “Faces of Homelessness” Speakers’ Bureau challenges us to believe that we can and should end homelessness.

A standard presentation includes up to three panelists with firsthand experience of homelessness and a discussion moderator. While presentations can be customized for particular groups, classes, or events, presentations typically follow this outline:

• Introduction and Stereotypes (5-10 minutes)
• Speaker Testimonies from 2-3 speakers (10-20 minutes each)
• Question and Answer (15+ minutes)

For more information on hosting a “Faces of Homelessness” Speakers’ Bureau panel, please contact:

Lindsay Callahan Vanderheiden
AmeriCorps*VISTA
Health Care for the Homeless
(443) 703-1349
lcallahan[at]hchmd[dot]org

The Faces of Homeless Speakers’ Bureau – Baltimore is a collaborative project of Healthcare for the Homeless, National Coalition for the Homeless, AmeriCorps, and St. Vincent de Paul Baltimore.

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(Photo above from the National Walk to End Homelessness, Washington, D.C., 2008)

And the hits keep comin’.

For those of you playing along at home, I thought it worth mentioning that within the past six months, Unsung Baltimorean Lily Susskind:

1) not only received an Ignite Baltimore Ignition Grant; AND

2) won a Baker Foundation “b” award; BUT ALSO
3) was featured on the cover of last week’s B Daily as one of “10 Baltimoreans to Watch Under 30.”

Can I claim an Unsung Baltimore bump? Ah, why the heck not.

The diminutive dynamo’s latest ambitious project is to secure a permanent space for all sorts of dance awesomeness in Baltimore. Anyone who knows of a good building, or has leads on financing for one, hit her up.

Sarah Gorman

Artistic portrayals of suburban alienation – even those that involve reanimated corpses - are not exactly new. Depictions of zombies as metaphors for social disconnection, from ‘Dawn of the Dead’ to ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ comprise a sub-genre unto themselves. However, few dramatic productions to date have mapped the intersection of narcotized suburbanites, disaffected teens, tuned-out internet addicts, and the walking dead.

Enter ‘Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom,’ a 2006 play by Jennifer Haley which has its Baltimore premiere this weekend, courtesy of Charm City’s own Glass Mind Theatre (GMT). Described by the Denver Post as “’Halo’ meets ‘The Omen,’” N3 takes a darkly satirical look at suburban teens hooked on a violent video game, which becomes a source of increasing concern for their parents.

Recently I sat down with Sarah Gorman, GMT’s associate artistic director, to get the scoop on the play and learn what brought her to Baltimore.

(Full disclosure: I have a small part in an upcoming GMT production.)

————————————————————

Sarah Gorman’s career in theater began early. Her parents were both actors, and they would regularly put on performances that included their seven children. “It was mostly a way for my family to be doing the same thing in the same place at the same time,” says Gorman, 23.

By the time she was 14, Gorman had “acquired a certain skill set” as an actor, along with the certainty that the stage was where she wanted to be. After graduating from the prestigious Carver Center for the Arts and Technology, Gorman studied musical theater and drama at Syracuse University. Along the road to her BFA in drama, Gorman spent a semester in London, where she had the opportunity to study and perform at the historic Globe Theatre.

Returning to Baltimore, Gorman reconnected with Alex Scally, a friend from her Carver days who had recently launched Glass Mind with Andrew Peters. In 2010 she auditioned for GMT’s short play festival, ‘Brainstorm,’ and before long she was a full-fledged member of the company.

“Everything GMT does is collaborative,” says Gorman about what attracted her to the company. “No member is more important than the other; no one opinion is more important than anyone else’s.” For Gorman, as for GMT artistic director Peters, the image of a glass mind “is evocative being able to look inside and see what’s going on, see the synapses firing. We invite everyone to come in and look at what we’re doing and thinking.”


Gorman exhorts young people to “Get out, leave the computer behind. Stop, breathe, log off.”

That sense of openness and collaboration has allowed Gorman, who also performs with Factory Edge Theatre Works, to push the boundaries of her craft. In addition to performing, she has gained experience as a playwright, director, choreographer, and – in the case of N3 – set designer.

“Set design involves the visual realization of the world of the play,” she explains. “It involves understanding the theory of the piece, then interpreting it, building it, and showing it.”

The world of N3 is a dystopic one. The setting is an anesthetized suburbia where teens spend all their time online, playing the titular video game while their alarmed but clueless parents look on.

“N3 explores relationships between parents and kids, and between people in general,” says Gorman. “It looks at how disengagement can get in the way of those relationships, and how that becomes horrific and zombielike. In the play, the kids think their parents are turning into zombies, whereas the parents have all this great commentary about how the kids sit for hours without blinking or moving…devoid of thought, personality, and ideas.”

Photo courtesy of Glass Mind Theatre

Gorman feels that people of all generations will find in N3 chilling resonances with their own lives. “The play looks at the contemporary social order and social expectations, like who you’re expected to be, how your lawn is expected to look, how your house is expected to be painted…it looks at the way that virtual reality extends into our own reality.”

“Everybody’s been in that place,” she continues, “where you’re on Wikipedia at 11:30, and you’re only going to look at it for 15 minutes, and then you look up and it’s 3:00 a.m.”

Working on the play caused Gorman to reflect on some of the challenges that face young people who grew up with the internet. “This generation doesn’t want to be connected,” she laments. “People are on Facebook and Twitter — everybody’s desperate to put themselves out there and be heard, but no one is looking for an answer back.”

“When you’re just sitting on your ass and you have a whole city in front of you and you’re missing all the opportunities…well, this [play] is one of those opportunities!”

For Gorman and other members of GMT, part of the company’s mission is to combat that sense of disengagement and encourage their peers to connect in a decidedly analog way.

“Take today,” she offers. “We all got here at 9a.m. Other than looking up the number for Papa John’s on a smartphone, there’s been no Facebook, no Twitter, just seven people in a room, talking.”

Her face lights up with enthusiasm as she goes on. “We have company meetings once a week. You have two hours to sit with people that you love and talk about this company that you’re fostering, and your ideas on art, and how we can get better, and how we can manage the business.”

She exhorts young people to “Get out, leave the computer behind. Stop, breathe, log off of Facebook, go to a museum, see a play, take a walk, read a book. If you don’t get out of your comfort zone, you’re just not being challenged.”

Asked why members of her generation should come to see this play in particular, Gorman ponders for only a second before replying. “It’s funny, well written, clever, very well directed, and it’s scary. There’s a great line…that Andrew Peters’ character says in the play – I’m paraphrasing, but it’s something like this — we all need some space to go be, you know, just complete freaks. This play will touch on that. It’s the same sort of space that allows us to enjoy slasher movies.”

“When you’re just sitting on your ass and you have a whole city in front of you and you’re missing all the opportunities…well, this is one of those opportunities,” she concludes, laughing.

For Gorman, whose dream job is artistic director of her own company, and who would love to play Charlotte in Sondheim’s ‘A Little Night Music’ (“such an underrated character,” she sighs), theater remains an eminently relevant way to gain insight into social conditions.

“Art in general forces society to look in on itself,” she remarks. “I love engaging an audience, with everyone sitting in that dark space.”

“There’s a depth to this art form,” she says with conviction. “There’s so much still unknown, so much yet to be learned. I want to see how our generation can evolve this art.”

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Photo courtesy of Glass Mind Theatre

Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom‘ opens March 11 and runs until March 20
Venue: Load of Fun Theater, 120 North Avenue, Baltimore
Guest Director: Mary Rose O’Connor
Stage Manager: Blaine Padagoc
Set Design: Sarah Gorman
Props: Heather Mork
Lighting: Jennifer Reiser
Ticket Prices: Wicked cheap. Buy one for your mom.

And don’t miss these associated events!
- Potluck for Suburban Professionals: Sunday, March 13, 6:15pm
- Zombie Spring Semi-Formal: Saturday, March 19 – Post-Show

Kalima Young

Kalima Young’s work is all about making connections. Whether in her former role as director of an adolescent AIDS program, or in her current ones as filmmaker, college professor, and education advocate, Young delights in connecting people and causes that typically haven’t been brought together before.

Young herself puts it more succinctly: “I love getting people together to make fun shit happen,” she says cheerfully.

Young grew up on Baltimore’s West Side. A self-described “Pratt brat,” she has fond memories of the hours she spent in the neighborhood branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, immersed in books. She loved the library so much, in fact, that she got her first job there, as a book shelver. She was 11 years old.

That love of learning combined with service led Young to concentrate in women’s studies in college, and it has fueled her activism ever since. In 2000 she received an Open Society Institute-Baltimore Community Fellowship to create YUHIP, a project which used the internet to teach teens about health issues.

“At that point in my life, I had been doing freelance video production and canvassing for Clean Water Action, which was fun,” she recalls.

One of the things she enjoyed about canvassing was the opportunity to erase stereotypes. “People think that black people don’t care about the environment,” she says, rolling her eyes.

YUHIP was so successful under Young’s leadership that the University of Maryland developed it into a multi-year pilot program called Connect to Protect (C2P), which aimed to reduce the risks and consequences associated with HIV/AIDS among young people.

“The idea [behind C2P] was to bring group of people together to look at different systems and sectors and look at how to change them in order to reduce HIV,” Young explains. “It was all about mobilizing people to change in a sustainable way, not just, ‘Hey, it’s World AIDS Day!’”

Young evinces frustration when talking about the fragmented ways in which human services and other social supports are delivered to children and youth. “Young people have been falling into this river and we’ve been throwing them life jackets. We haven’t been going up to the bridge and seeing where it’s broken,” she remarks.

Asked how one diagnoses the cracks in the system, Young offers specifics from her C2P work. “Look at the increase in concentration of HIV/AIDS in one community. Look at high risk young people hanging out with low-risk young people. There are logical links. You need to look at young people from a whole perspective.”

For Young, involving young people themselves in that process is an essential component of a holistic approach.

“Young people don’t know what’s going on in their own neighborhoods,” she says. “I used to work part-time as an abortion counselor at a clinic. I saw girls who didn’t want to get an abortion, but their parents forced them. They didn’t even know where to get a free pregnancy test!”

“Peer to peer recruitment is important,” she continues. “A lot of young people need psychosocial services, such as financial services, emergency assistance, health education. Through peer support groups, young people can see themselves reflected in everybody else’s face. It’s really easy to be isolated as a young person, especially when you’re trying to be drug- and sex-free.”

As an African-American woman, an artist, and a longtime LGBTQ activist, Young knows something about feeling that sense of isolation.

“A lot of the stuff I do is queer focused, so there is a disconnect in the black community, issues that [African-Americans] don’t want to see or talk about,” she says. I get a lot more openings in the queer world than in the black world, but the queer community is very white. There’s no space for black queer women.”

Breaking down those barriers involves a willingness to take risks, says Young. “People need to be willing to leave their neighborhoods. If you have privilege, acknowledge it and then do something about it. Educate yourself. Work with the community to improve it. Vote. Live by the principles you say you love!”

Young has the opportunity to impart these lessons to college students at Towson University, where she teaches classes on LGBTQ issues. “I love watching my kids’ brains explode” with new information and ideas, she jokes. She brings that sensibility to her rose as a filmmaker, producing pieces that explore the nuances of race and gender.

And while the C2P pilot program ended in 2010, Young continues to work on behalf of children and youth. This year she started a new job as an education reform advocate with the ACLU of Maryland, fighting to preserve funding for public schools.

“Mobilizing people for joy and justice are what feeds my soul,” she says, smiling.

Sweaty, delirious, and sublime


If you missed Dance Round Robin last weekend, I feel sorry for you. It was an exhilarating, innovative, and occasionally naked evening of modern dance, from the Fly-Girls-on-crack awesomeness of the Effervescent Collective to the death-defying head spins of the International Flow Syndicate.

I didn’t do a head count, but it seemed like well over 200 people crammed themselves into the Lumberhaus for the show and the pre-show reception, which featured young men in startlingly form-fitting unitards serving up box wine and Boh. The crowd was composed mainly of twentysomethings, but there was a fair representation of thirty- and fortysomethings in the mix.


The performances themselves took place consecutively and in the round, hence the “round robin” part of the title. After one performer or group finished, stage lights would illuminate a different corner of the room and the audience was gently herded away from the stage of the moment. The crowd coordination and handoffs between performers were exceptionally well organized, especially given the overall DIY vibe.


Immediately after the final dance performance, Unsung Baltimorean emerita Lily Susskind stepped into the makeshift DJ booth and the fourth wall cheerfully collapsed as dancers formed a conga line and got the former audience members dancing themselves. I left around 1:00 a.m. and the dance party was still going strong.


For anyone who’s too bummed about missing a fun, sweaty, stanky evening of avant-garde dance, fret not: you can check out my photos of the event here; and Effervescent Collective is having another show at Lumberhaus this weekend.