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

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Amazing Weekend at the Senator!

Wow. I had a little too much fun at the Senator this weekend, which is maybe why I couldn’t get a blog post together yesterday. I want to thank Tom Kiefaber, Sean Brescia of Clearpath Management, Gayle and the rest of the staff at the Senator, and of course all the wonderful musicians and local businesses who volunteered their talents and services to make the Senator Sessions a great success! Thank you for a wonderful, exciting weekend. Best time I’ve had since I moved to Baltimore, and I am thrilled to know such talent is in the area!

The emerging shared vision of the Senator as a premiere multi-use arts and entertainment facility has now been successfully demonstrated as an evolving reality. This weekend was the icing on a cake that was baked over the past few weeks during other events like the inauguration, the Super Bowl, the Mind Field premiere, as well as showings of some of the finest current Hollywood movies.

The question remains whether, without community input, the city’s steering committee is sharing this vision, or even has a plan at all.

I want to echo David Arquette’s warning in his recent blog post about the Senator: there is indeed a danger of this cherished local resource falling into the wrong hands. This is not necessarily because anything malicious is happening. It’s just that the city does not have a good track record for planning of community spaces, as I think many of my neighbors who remember all the struggles over the Belvedere Square redevelopment project can attest.

Right now, it’s unclear whether the city has a plan for the Senator, and I understand from a conversation with a steering committee member that nobody on the steering committee has any experience in running a theater. My guess is that the city stepped in to try to help in what everyone agrees is an emergency situation, but they’re unprepared to help.

Unfortunately, they so far have not heeded what was the real request that came out of the emergency town hall at the Senator in January --- we asked them to come to the table with local community and business association leaders, community members, and Tom Kiefaber to discuss openly what can be done to put the Senator into the hands of a community-owned non-profit and transition it in a seamless way that will keep the doors open. So far, the city is having their own little private meetings and has not come to the table with all of us.

As for Tom Kiefaber, he knows just as well as Dan Rodricks at the Sun does that this is not about him. The Senator is bigger and more important than one man, and everyone knows that. I think Tom knows he has to give it up and let other people run the place, but let’s face it --- so far this is his life’s work. He’s been saving the Senator for over 20 years. Of course he doesn’t want to just let it go unless there’s a plan in place for it to be going in the right direction and safely in the hands of the community that loves it. Anyone who has done work they cared about deeply must understand that. It’s only natural.

The public also may not understand that the city really isn’t offering anything directly to Tom Kiefaber in their bid to acquire the Senator. The $320K figure they’ve floated would only pay off a small, currently unsecured portion of a much larger debt of more than $900K. It would be going straight to the bank, none of it into Tom’s pocket. He and his family are going to be in dire financial straits even if they take this deal. This is what I’m able to glean from the public record. Since the loan is secured by their home as collateral, it may in fact be a matter of taking the deal or losing their home (the fact that their home is currently collateral was reported in the Sun). More public money seems unlikely to be the solution, but from a standpoint of human compassion, I really have to say I hate to think that the family that made such huge personal sacrifices to keep the Senator open for the past 20 years is going to continue to suffer as a consequence. That part of this really breaks my heart.

I also want to just express a plea for not only keeping the doors open, but also keeping the staff of the Senator employed. There are a lot of good people there who stand to lose their jobs in this horrendous economy.

So, there’s a lot of positive stuff that can come out of this, as the wonderful weekend of fun just demonstrated. There’s also some bad consequences that could happen if we’re not careful. I want to see a solution that serves the highest good for the entire community, and keeps the Senator open as the multi-purpose arts and entertainment venue it needs to be.

Please enjoy my amateur videos of the events.

Friday Night Baltimore Revue:

Saturday Acoustic Love Songs:

Sunday Left Bank Jazz Revisited:

Sunday Night Psychedelic Show:

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