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True North

Artscape celebrates 10 years of Station North with a new local music stage

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Caleb Stine


It seems fitting that this is the year Artscape extends northward, up Charles Street, right to the edge of North Avenue, where a cluster of bars and music venues form the central hub of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District.

This time last summer, Station North was one of 51 recipients of the inaugural Our Town grants, distributed by the National Endowment for the Arts, handing the neighborhood a cool $150,000 in federal funding. A portion of that pot has gone toward funding Final Fridays events, kicked off in October and touted by Ben Stone, who began his tenure as executive director of Station North Arts and Entertainment Inc. last August, as a way to show people there’s more to do in Station North than drop in for a show, a bite, and a beer, and then scram. A not-insignificant chunk—$20,000—helped fund the Open Walls mural project, curated by world-renowned street artist Gaia. Not to mention that this year marks 10th anniversary of the area’s designation as an arts district.

Add to that list the new Station North stage, debuting this Friday at Artscape, and it hasn’t been a bad anniversary for Station North, which at times can be considered a grand experiment: tossing artists, musicians, and creative-class types at a blighted Baltimore neighborhood, in the hopes that they can make roughly 100 acres appealing for people to live and work in.

Scheduled to perform is a slate of local bands and two DJs, well-known in these parts, including psychedelic soul rockers Celebration, instrumentalists Yeveto—of which Windup Space proprietor Russell de Ocampo is a member—and Americana/roots singer-songwriter Caleb Stine. (Any money Station North would have put toward a Final Fridays event in July has gone to help pay for the stage, although Stone can’t disclose the exact amount.)

Stone says having the stage in place at Artscape this year speaks volumes about Station North’s role in the city. “On one hand, we try to bring people into this area and program events and fund venues to do things that will tell people what a great area this is,” he says. “But we also try to connect the artists with new audiences.”

To that effect, Stone will man a booth at the corner of Lanvale and Charles streets, just outside the Metro Gallery, where bike tours of the Open Walls murals will depart. (Baltimore Bicycle Works is loaning the bikes.) Baltimore Heritage, with funding help from Station North, will lead walking tours of historic sites in the neighborhood.

Still, the idea of dropping a stage only feet from the intersection of Charles Street and North Avenue isn’t entirely novel. Since expanding Artscape onto Charles Street in 2008, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts has been fielding requests to push further into Station North.

“Stakeholders in the district really wanted us to go all the way to North Avenue right then and there,” says Kathy Hornig, director of festivals for BOPA. “Logistical challenges,” she says, prevented BOPA from making such a move then—it costs money, after all, to pay for additional police officers, road closures, lighting, and portable toilets—but the vision remained until BOPA approached Stone late last year.

“I talked with literally every business owner on this block,” Stone says. “Almost everyone thought it was a great idea to do it. Now everyone’s on board.”

For as big a boon as this is for a neighborhood nearing adolescence, it’s perhaps a bigger step for Baltimore’s local, indie, and, to a degree, overlooked music scene. “Why get these sort of C-level national acts to come in and spend money on them when you have A-level national acts in Baltimore?” says guitarist Stine, who rounds out the Station North stage as the final performer on Sunday night. “I’m really looking forward to that stage, pretty much the whole way through. There’s a lot of really good music on it.”

In a way, Stine says, Artscape is adapting the concept Wham City collective employed with its annual Whartscape experimental music festival, which stopped in 2010 after five years and, for three of those years, ran the same weekend of Artscape. But, he says, it’s also “just another outpouring of what’s naturally going on here anyways.”

“Frankly there should be three stages like this,” to account for the hip-hop and Latin music coming out of the city, Stine says. “That would be awesome if we just had multiple stages of all these different music scenes that are going on, that don’t necessarily know about each other.”

For now, at least, the Station North Stage is a first step.

“It’s great to have national and international bands, but there was no true showcase of Baltimore talent,” says Stone. “This is one opportunity to connect with what’s really going on.”

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