Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Save the Senator Theatre

I was just at the Senator Theatre in North Baltimore for an emergency community meeting about the plans to convert the historic 1939 Art Deco theatre into a nonprofit, community owned arts venue. The situation appears to be this: the plans are stalled because the theatre is in imminent danger of closing, and the staff has all it can handle to just keep the theatre operating at this time. The current owner, Tom Kiefaber, who has striven for 20 years to keep the theatre open and provide entertainment and a community gathering place, cannot turn the theatre into a nonprofit if he can’t clear the theatre’s debts first.

The positive side to all this is, there is a great feeling that the community can expand the theatre’s role as a real place of community building. Many potential uses were mentioned, including a place for schools to show educational films related to their curriculums, a place for local filmmakers to showcase their work, and a place for live performances of many kinds.

There is a plan in the works for local bands to stage a fundraiser for the theatre, although those plans are not finalized. Some lawyers have made offers of free legal help for the theatre’s efforts to transition to a nonprofit as well.

I am new to the area, so I don’t have the fond memories of the history of the place that many members of the community have. I haven’t been there for the annual showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” during the holidays, for instance, or the many fundraisers for community nonprofits.

Several members of the community who were at the meeting mentioned in particular that the recent gathering at the Senator to witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama was an outstanding example of the kind of community-building function that the Senator Theatre can serve, and currently serves --- bringing neighbors together in a spirit of celebration to witness a historically important event, and to gather food donations for the needy at the same time. The standing-room only event truly was a special moment for this community.

The recent national and international economic crisis has put the Senator’s survival in grave jeopardy. The failure of the theatre would also endanger the businesses in the surrounding area, which have a symbiotic relationship with the theatre, the prosperity of each contributing to the prosperity of the others. It would also negatively affect the community psychologically and in terms of home values. With support from local and state government for the goal of turning the Senator into a nonprofit, the theatre need not close. It is clear there is broad support within the community for the theatre. The question is really whether government leaders will come to the table to discuss how the conversion into a nonprofit can become a reality.

I ask elected representatives in the Baltimore area to come together and help save the Senator and the positive impact it has on the economy and the quality of life in North Baltimore.

Tom Kiefaber told us at the meeting that it is not a question of raising a specific dollar amount, but a question of getting enough institutional support behind the project for it to move forward. That said, he did also say that he would be grateful for any angels who wish to come forward. When he said it, I pictured angels all around him.

Residents of the Baltimore area can help keep the Senator in business by going to movies there, of course. The next film shown will be Defiance, starting Friday. Check the theatre’s web site for times. Let’s pack the house!

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OpenID Friends of The Senator Theatre said...

Hello, Laura!

Welcome to the area!

I too have been working to increase awareness & encourage participation and want to thank you for spreading the word about The Senator Theatre's plight.

The theatre has so much potential and is a community resource we can't afford to lose. If folks don't contact anyone else, at least send the mayor and the governor an email:


January 27, 2009


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