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

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Community-Friendly Business: What a Concept!

I went to the Mind Field premiere last night at the Senator. The skate scene isn't my thing, but the film was nevertheless pretty cool. It mostly consisted of footage of some amazing skateboard tricks, juxtaposed with music, animations, and short shots of trippy things. There was a slightly psychedelic aesthetic that made the film look almost hand-colored. Anyway, it was well done.

It really got me thinking about how important community-friendly business is. Between national premieres of films connected with Baltimore or made by Baltimore filmmakers, free public events at significant times like the inauguration or the Super Bowl to support the local food pantry, the many fundraisers for area nonprofits the Senator has done (someone told me they number at least in the hundreds), the tradition of getting the kids on stage in their costumes at Halloween, and the general friendly feeling you get of coming to a locally-owned neighborhood theatre, we really have a unique treasure here in Baltimore, not just in the Senator's architecture and history, but its management. There's a real hometown feeling at the Senator.

Would a national chain do all (or any) of the above? I don't think so.

This is one thing that worries me. News reports in the Sun have said the city aims to transition the Senator to a nonprofit, but one city official recently told me he isn't sure that's going to be the solution. Certainly the public perception is that the city is stepping in and turning the Senator into a nonprofit, but I'm not sure that's the reality. We don't know what's happening, and it seems to me the city is at least as likely to bring in a developer or a national chain as to create a community-owned nonprofit.

All of this keeps reminding me of something that was said at the January 22 town hall at the Senator, when Tom Kiefaber asked Senator supporters to contact their local officials and ask them to come to the table with him and discuss the Senator's future. I'm new to Baltimore, so it didn't all make complete sense to me, but red flags were raised nonetheless.

MaxGenus has footage of most of the meeting on YouTube, but his daughter must have run out of battery power for her camera before the end of the question and answer session. Below is one clip of Catherine Evans of the Belvedere Improvement Association. The rest of the meeting footage can be viewed here.

What MaxGenus didn't get, and it also wasn't reported by the media, was an interesting exchange toward the end of the Q&A part of the meeting. I didn't totally understand it, not knowing the history, but it was something like the following:

The discussion was about the importance of the Senator Theatre to this area.

A man sitting in front of me noted that he's been following the developments with the Senator Theatre for the past twenty years, and asked why the city government doesn't understand the significance of the Senator and its function in the local community.

Catherine Evans stood up and said she wanted to answer that question. I don't have the exact quote, so this is coming from memory and notes, but I think she said something like...Let me assure you that they do. When she came on board with the Belvedere Improvement Association, there were redevelopment issues in the area and she worked closely with then city councilman Martin O'Malley. Later, when Belvedere Square was closed, Andy Frank (now Deputy Mayor) was put in charge of this at the BDC. The city understands for sure the significance of the Senator and its future, but they're also determined to be the ones who control it, whether from a community standpoint, as Tom (Kiefaber) has always advocated, or a commercial development standpoint.

Then another woman stood up behind me and said basically, yes, that's true. The city has been waiting it out so they can step in and control it.

Again, I apologize for not having the exact quotes, but the exchange went something like that.

Those of us who support the Senator need to keep our ears to the ground carefully. Something is afoot, and I don't think it smells right.

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OpenID friendsofthesenatortheatre said...

I recall this as well, Laura. Am I glad I wasn't the only one! I was really hoping that my daughter's camera caught Dr. Evan's comment, but it didn't. :(

I did a little digging & found that not only was O'Malley a staunch advocate for the Belvedere Square revitalization (http://baltimore.bizjournals.com/baltimore/stories/2005/09/05/editorial3.html), he even got into some hot water when he sent out a letter asking folks to patronize the area (http://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/stories/2003/08/11/story2.html).
He certainly knows The Senator, if nothing else, from the premiere of "Ladder 49" (http://www.dailypress.com/bal-te.to.ladder28sep28,0,548183.story).

I wonder if anyone has written to Governor O'Malley about The Senator and received a response? I know I haven't gotten one yet.

I did however, receive a response from Mayor Dixon regarding 5 questions I sent to her. They're in today's blog entry, if anyone's interested.

Thanks for staying on the front lines and keeping this subject fresh, Laura!

February 09, 2009


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