The area's other cultural arts centers

Special To The Sun

WHEN you want to see a major arts performance, where do you go? The Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the , the or , right?

You expect top-notch productions at those Baltimore venues, but they aren't the only major players on the area's cultural-arts scene. In the past several years, the number of regional arts facilities in our area has grown remarkably.

With sneak previews of critically acclaimed ballets, performances by renowned musicians and exciting new dance and theater productions, these arts centers offer an ideal way to expand your cultural horizons, often for little or no cost.

To help you take advantage of these regional treasures, we've profiled several of them below. Five are new or relatively new; one has been around for more than two decades but is being included because it recently expanded.

401 Thomas Run Road, Bel Air, 410-836-4211,

In May 2000, celebrated the opening of the 908-seat Amoss Center. The space was designed to be large enough for full theatrical productions, and since its opening has been host to everything from an aerial circus to opera and full-scale ballets.

"With the Amoss Center, we have the ability to do more technically demanding and bigger productions," explains Susan Nicolaides, cultural affairs coordinator. "We introduced opera this year with Porgy and Bess, and we've had symphony concerts that wouldn't have been possible in our old space."

One of the Amoss Center's goals is to bring high-quality arts to Harford County. The center enjoys a unique partnership with the Washington Ballet, which is the company in residence.

The Washington Ballet rehearses at the Amoss Center and presents previews and performances there. In addition, the company gives lectures and outreach performances for the community and local schools.

"Our stage is the exact same dimensions as the Warner Theatre and the Eisenhower Theatre at the Kennedy Center, where the Washington Ballet [officially] performs," says Nicolaides. "So it's a wonderful opportunity for the company to rehearse in virtually a duplicate space, and the community gets to see world-class dance right here at home."

The Amoss Center both presents events and rents the facility to other arts organizations.

On the horizon

May 11: Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are by the Washington Ballet. Choreography by Septime Webre, sets and costumes by Maurice Sendak. Includes the opportunity for young audience members to "Make a Ballet" on stage with Webre himself.

Sept. 28: World-premiere preview of the Washington Ballet's Carmina Burana.

1700 E. Cold Spring Lane, 443-885-3286,

On Dec. 1, 2001, the soaring voice of soprano Jessye Norman rang out in Northeast Baltimore, heralding the debut of the 140,500-square-foot Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center at .

The center is home to Morgan's famed choir, and offers three performing spaces, a visual-arts gallery and support areas for the music and art departments.

"We're hoping to make this a regional center for the arts that brings more arts to the Northeast Baltimore corridor," says Dr. Nathan Carter, chairman of Morgan's department of fine arts and conductor of the choir.

"Our own season closes in May, but we plan to make this a year-round center for the arts."

The centerpiece of the facility is the 2,000-seat James H. and Louise Hayley Gilliam Concert Hall. The two other performance spaces are the 300-seat Turpin-Lamb Theatre and the 200-seat Recital Hall.

The James E. Lewis Museum of Art displays African, American, European and New Guinea cultural-art exhibits and contains more than 4,000 art objects. The museum was designed to accommodate visiting art exhibits as well, and provides an opportunity for African-American artists to display their works.

On the horizon

April 11-21: Sacred Places, a play written and directed by Kermit Frazier, in the Turpin-Lamb Theatre.

May 5: Choir in the Gilliam Concert Hall

May 11: Jazz Ensemble in the Gilliam Concert Hall.

194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park, 410-636-6597,

Like a lot of abandoned buildings, the 50-year-old high school in Brooklyn Park was once slated for demolition. But a determined community decided to rescue the building, and in the process created a center that is nationally recognized as a model of achievement in community redevelopment.

Occupying 58,000 square feet of the old school, Chesapeake Arts (as the center is known) opened in January 2001. Since then, more than 40,000 people have attended an arts event at the facility. And Chesapeake Arts has presented 233 performances by local and national artists and four art exhibitions.

The facility boasts a Main Stage Theatre that seats 904, a Studio Theatre that can accommodate up to 180 people, a dance studio, gallery space, a ceramics lab, a piano lab, artist studios and classrooms.

Chesapeake Arts not only produces its own events, it also welcomes outside performers and offers classes and arts instruction to the greater community.

"We want to provide arts experiences in the visual, performing and literary arts not just to the community, but to our whole geographic region," says executive director Wayne Shipley. "One of our goals is to become a regional arts center."

With the production schedule that Chesapeake Arts has kept up in the past year, it's no surprise to hear Shipley say of the 2002 calendar, "There is hardly a weekend where there isn't a show up."

In November, Chesapeake Arts will premiere its most ambitious project to date - a never-before-produced show adapted from the children's book Rumplestiltskin's Daughter.

On the horizon

April 5-21: The Puppetmaster of Lodz by the Performance Workshop Theatre Company.

May 11: United States Air Force Jazz Band.

June 6: A Murderous Production, an interactive murder-mystery by Do or Die Productions.

University of Maryland, College Park 301-405-ARTS,

With 318,000 square feet of facility on 17 acres, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center more than lives up to its original concept as a performing arts "village."

The center, which opened in September 2000, houses an 1,100-seat concert hall, the 650-seat Ina and Jack Kay Theatre, the 300-seat Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Recital Hall, a 180-seat dance theater, the 200-seat Robert and Arlene Kogod Theatre, a 100-seat laboratory theater, the university's dance and theater departments and school of music, a performing-arts library, shops, labs, classrooms, offices, rehearsal spaces and even a bistro and coffee bar.

All the performance venues open off a central entrance bou-levard, inviting people to peek in and see what's on offer.

The arrangement is deliberate. "This building was designed as a place where campus and community can come together and explore," says Susan Farr, executive director.

The center boasts several unique construction features, the goal of which is to provide audiences with an outstanding performance experience. The building was actually constructed as 10 individual foundations, with dead air space between the walls to allow for multiple performances without any sound interference.

And it is one of the only performing-arts centers in the world to house a publicly accessible performing-arts library.

With more than 900 events in its inaugural season - many of them free - the center is already a major force in the area's cultural life.

"One of our primary goals is to integrate performance and learning for our audiences," says Farr.

One of the center's major areas of impact has been in the dance world; there have been several world-class performances. This summer, acclaimed choreographer Doug Varone will give a workshop that will be open to area dancers.

On the horizon

April 3-7: Room, a play by SITI Company, in the Kay Theatre.

April 15: Women in Theatre in the Gildenhorn Recital Hall.

April 25: Andre Watts piano master class in the Recital Hall.

3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills, 410-356-SHOW

At the ripe old age of 6 1/2 , the Gordon Center for Performing Arts is one of the more established regional arts centers.

It has 550 seats, an art gallery with changing exhibits and parking for 500 cars. It also was designed to be one of the most handicapped-accessible and technologically sophisticated arts centers in the area.

Since its opening in September 1995, more than 300,000 people have attended its events.

"Our vision is twofold," says Nancy Goldberg, executive director. "One part is to bring high-caliber entertainment in all genres to the community - we're very eclectic. The second is to develop new audiences."

The center's season is always diverse, usually featuring dance, theater and a wide variety of music. In addition to established acts, a number of lesser-known performers have been invited to perform on the Gordon stage.

"We're still so young we aren't afraid to try something new," explains Goldberg. "We're still experimenting."

Performances and performers at the center have ranged from the play Forbidden Broadway and the Pilobolus Dance Theatre to Viva Quetzal, the Latin musical group that sells out everywhere, and Maria Benitez Teatro Flamenco. The facility's impressive acoustics also make it a favorite for recording artists to rent.

On the horizon

April: The Jewish Film Festival throughout the month.

May 11: Concert Artists of Baltimore.

801 Chase St., Annapolis, 410- 269-1087,

Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts is the grande dame of the regional performing-arts centers. In operation since September 1979, Maryland Hall seeks to provide community arts experiences through education and programs in the visual and performing arts.

An estimated 80,000 people a year come through the doors to take a class or attend an event. "We have just had phenomenal growth," says Linnell Bowen, executive director. "We are a multidiscipline organization with a focus on arts education in the community."

The Annapolis Chorale, Annapolis Opera, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Theatre of Maryland all call Maryland Hall home. They perform in the hall's 850-seat theater, while visual artists exhibit in the Cardinal Gallery.

Like Chesapeake Arts, Maryland Hall is in a converted school building. It recently expanded into an annex in the Bates Middle School, just behind the main building.

The resident companies all have a full season at Maryland Hall. They are joined each year by outside companies presenting a wide range of events.

On the horizon

April 19: Habana Sax, a group of saxophonists from Cuba.

April 27: Annapolis Chorale presents Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem.

May 10-11: "The Best of the Bolshoi, Kirov and Ukraine Ballets."

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