Founded in 1967, the Maryland State Arts Council supports creative talent and promotes awareness of and accessibility to the arts statewide. The citizens have listened.
Cited in the Council’s Imagine Maryland: A Renewed Strategic Plan for the Arts 2014-2019, “six in ten Marylanders feel the arts touch their lives,” while “Nine in ten…agree that the State of Maryland and local communities should encourage art and creativity and should encourage our children to imagine and be creative.”
In a state that embraces folk culture, or folklife, that sentiment is on trend with today’s experience-driven group market. Managed by the Council, Maryland has 25 designated Arts & Entertainment (A & E) Districts in some 15 counties. Supporting $856 million in state GDP in fiscal 2016, three of these “Structures for Creative Placemaking” are found in Baltimore and one in Annapolis. Along with the Eastern Shore, this keen focus on art creates a world of imaginative possibilities for Maryland groups.
To call Baltimore quirky is an understatement. Just ask native son John Waters, who directed his “Dreamlanders” actors in transgressive classics such as Pink Flamingos and the mainstream Hairspray.
“You can look far and wide, but you’ll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style,” wrote Waters in his 1981 book Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste. “It’s as if every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay.”
The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) is my favorite for exemplifying Baltimore’s creative spirit. Clad in shimmering mosaic walls, AVAM wows with wildly imaginative works from self-taught artists. Highlights include the outdoor Giant Whirligig, and Fifi (a giant pink poodle) and friends from AVAM’s annual Kinetic Sculpture Race—a 14-mile chase of human-powered amphibious artworks around Baltimore Harbor.
The event spaces dazzle, too, including the 250-capacity Sculpture Barn & Garden and 400-capacity Jim Rouse Visionary Center banquet room. Located by historic Federal Hill, AVAM’s free summertime “Flicks from the Hill” series features films projected on a 30-foot-wide screen held from above by the Giant Golden Hand.
With other distinctive event-capable venues such as the National Museum of Dentistry and spectacular George Peabody Library, “Charm City” has creative character all its own.
“Groups seeking arts, culture and entertainment will find authentic experiences across many of Baltimore’s unique neighborhoods,” said Visit Baltimore President and CEO Al Hutchinson. “The city’s immersive scene embodies emerging artists, world-renowned museums and burgeoning entertainment districts. These include street art, curated exhibits and other forms in the Station North A & E District, and art galleries, retail shops and unique events in the culturally diverse Highlandtown A & E District.”
Not to miss, Hutchison added, is the historic 15-story Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower.
Centering the newly established Bromo Tower A & E District, this 1911 landmark, modeled after the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, was transformed into 30 studios for visual and literary artists. Open to visitors, the spaces host events year-round. Rental options include the mezzanine and magnificent Clock Room.
Another Tower District signature is the 1914 Hippodrome Theatre at The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center. Featuring Broadway shows, national tours and more, the 2,300-capacity venue is available for business and social events.
In Highlandtown (locally, “ha!”), near energetic Fells Point, the 1930s-era Patterson Movie Theater is where the Creative Alliance showcases singers, dancers, filmmakers and other local talent. Versatile event spaces include the theater, with seating for 140 and 250 for standing receptions, and Marquee Lounge.
Station North draws include the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway film center, headquarters of Maryland Film Festival organizers MdFF. Opened in May 2017 following an $18 million makeover, the Parkway’s year-round film programming spans time and genre. Rental spaces include the 414-seat auditorium and two 85-seat theaters.
Other top coordinates include the event-capable Walters Art Museum, renowned for its rare collection of works from the 3rd millennium BCE to the early 20th century. Housing the world’s largest Matisse collection, the Baltimore Museum of Art rents spaces that include the classical Fox and Antioch courts, and Gertrude’s restaurant—a favorite of John Waters.
Less than an hour south of Baltimore and east of Washington, D.C., on Chesapeake Bay, Maryland’s capital and seat of Anne Arundel County is another center of creativity.
“Our thriving arts and entertainment scene is an integral part of who we are,” said Connie Del Signore, president and CEO of Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County. “The destination is home to a host of professional and community theater groups. Downtown Annapolis boasts 20 art galleries within walking distance of one another, including the nationally accredited Mitchell Gallery. Getting an arts fix is always easy for our visitors.”
Governed by the Annapolis Art in Public Places Commission, outdoor murals form part of the Annapolis Arts District. According to Commission Chair Ellen Moyer, Annapolis “is a city displaying 300 years of art—a city art gallery without walls.”
Centered on historic West Street, the Arts District features restaurants, galleries and one of the country’s top small concert venues, the 300-capacity cabaret-style Rams Head On Stage. Don’t miss the district’s Chickens, either, artistically decorated by local artists and community and school groups.
Available for events on a select basis, the premier Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts is home to four resident companies: Annapolis Chorale/Live Arts Maryland, Annapolis Opera, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Theatre of Maryland. Headliners such as Kool & The Gang have played Live! Center Stage at the Maryland Live! Casino & Hotel.
Signature events include the monthly (May to November) First Sunday Arts Festival, Annapolis Film Festival (late March) and returning this June following its 2017 debut, Annapolis Arts Week. Summertime concerts include big-band music from the Naval Academy Band and the Annapolis Maritime Museum’s Tides ’n Tunes.
Even the United States Naval Academy, which originated here in 1845, is part of the scene via guided tours of its prodigious Art Collection.
Dotted with small communities, Maryland’s Eastern and Atlantic Shores offer yet more artful escapes for groups.
Boasting 600 miles of Chesapeake Bay waterfront, Talbot County’s cultural draws include the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and Classic Motor Museum, both in St. Michaels. In Easton, groups can see live shows at historic Avalon Theatre, or take art classes at the Academy Art Museum.
Anchoring the region, Ocean City’s newly expanded Roland E. Powell Convention Center offers 214,000 square feet of flexible space. Venues include a waterfront promenade for receptions, and conveniently for groups, the Performing Arts Center. Featuring a 1,200-seat auditorium, the venue has attracted headliners such as the Beach Boys and Kenny Rogers, and is available for meetings, conferences and functions.
With 10 miles of beaches and a nationally acclaimed three-mile Boardwalk, Ocean City has some 9,500 hotel rooms and more than 29,000 rentable condos, with roughly 4,850 available year-round.
In rural Wicomico County, the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art features the world’s largest decoy collection. Located on Schumaker Pond, a headwater of the Wicomico River, this striking facility and its scenic grounds flexibly welcome groups for meetings and functions.
CVB Contact Information
Ocean City CVB
Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County