A Beginner’s Guide to the Baltimore Arts Scene

By KATHERINE LOGAN and WILL KIRSCH | August 31, 2017


MONIQUE PRATER / CC BY-ND 2.0 Graffiti Alley, located in Station North, is a haven for local street artists.

Welcome you huddled masses. You have escaped the angst-ridden halls of high school and arrived at the teen-movie promised land: college. While it would be wonderful to assure you that all of your wildest dreams will be fulfilled, we can’t take on that liability. However, we at The News-Letter can do our best to introduce you to your new home: Baltimore, and share with you all of the reasons we’ve come to love it.

You may be arriving to this city, whose struggles receive far more publicity than its successes. Know that if you are willing to be humble (sit down), and give Baltimore a chance, you will be pleasantly surprised at what it has to offer, particularly in the realm of the arts. That said, here is your beginner’s guide to the arts scene in Baltimore.

Baltimore isn’t exactly Hollywood, but we do have our share of film history. Directors like John Waters and Barry Levinson, as well as films like Silence of the Lambs and TV shows like Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire have all immortalized Baltimore onscreen. The city carries on this tradition with the annual Maryland Film Festival (MdFF) and Johns Hopkins Film Festival, in their 20th and 21st years respectively.

The MdFF is hosted in the city’s many theaters, such as The Charles Theatre in Station North and the newly reopened Parkway Theatre, a historic building resurrected as a part of the 2017 Film Festival. The Senator Theatre, located on the edge of the city on York Rd, is another well-known historic theater, famous for premiering all of John Waters’ films.

The Johns Hopkins Film Festival is, unsurprisingly, held on the Homewood Campus and Hopkins-affiliated buildings like the JHU-MICA Film Centre in Station North. It cultivates the work of independent directors, from students and graduates to artists unaffiliated with the University. Additionally, the Film Society, which organizes the Festival, hosts screenings on campus throughout the year.

Musically, Baltimore is most known for its club scene, but the city’s tastes are hardly one-dimensional. One can find whatever fulfills their sonic desires here amongst the variety of different venues that host shows.

Within walking distance of campus is the Ottobar, the go-to touring destination for most mainstream punk and alternative bands. It’s also a great place to get your fake taken away, which will happen, so trying is pointless.

Bigger, more mainstream, acts tend to play at Rams Head Live!, a venue in the Inner Harbor. If you don’t want to stray too far from the library, check out the Metro Gallery and the Windup Space in Station North for unique shows, film screenings and readings.

If you fancy yourself a talented singer and want to showcase your vocals, Hopkins offers an a cappella group to suit almost any and all desires and genres. There are the modern/pop JHU Vocal Chords, the service-focused Notes of Ranvier, the suave AllNighters, the extremely talented and all-women Sirens, the ultra-competitive Octopodes, the hilarious (and sexy) Mental Notes and a variety of other special interest groups that you can check out at the Student Involvement Fair.

If Hamilton and Dear Evan Hanson are more up your alley, don’t be dismayed, Baltimore has a vibrant independent theatre scene as well. If you’re looking to dip your toes in, you can head to the Single Carrot Theatre, founded in our very own Charles Village in 2006, to watch the best of Baltimore’s up and coming playwrights and actors, who will often be your peers at Hopkins.

There’s also the Everyman Theatre located near Lexington Market which, true to its name, serves as an accessible performing arts space with the aim of connecting with its diverse audiences.

Of course there is also a bevy of performance groups on campus, including the musical theatre group, The Barnstormers, the student production company, Witness Theatre, which performs student-written plays, and our improv group, The Buttered Niblets. If you’re interested in joining the ranks of these troupes, keep an eye out for their fall auditions. Hopkins Junior Michael Feder’s new venture, Tentative Theatre Co., which staged its first production over the summer, is also a group to watch.

Last but not least, if you’re looking to add to your cred and/or improve your Instagram feed, Baltimore could be just the city for you. It’d be a true travesty if you didn’t visit the Baltimore Museum of Art, which is a stone’s throw away from campus, within your first semester at Hopkins. It boasts 95,000 pieces, including the largest Henri Matisse collection in the world — yes, you read that right.

Baltimore also has the Walters Museum, which features a wide variety of artworks and the American Visionary Art Museum. The best part about the Visionary Art Museum is that you never know what you’ll find there. For instance last time I checked it out, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips had a huge pink fluffy installation that you could sit in with a strobe light, custom music and a pink tongue sticking out. Who knew Wayne Coyne worked on sculptures?

Station North’s Graffiti Alley, a haven for local street artists who can work to their heart’s content, will help back up your claims to your friends back home that you’re getting acquainted with the streets while adding some color to your feed.

Also worth posing with are the murals you’ll find scattered throughout the city as part of the Mural Project, which began in 1975 with the intent to beautify Baltimore and instill a sense of pride in its residents (which now includes you).

Much of Baltimore’s art culture comes together in late July during Artscape, the largest free arts festival in the country. Artscape is a staple event in the lives of many Baltimoreans and is part-circus, part-art fair, part-concert and entirely weird as shit. Being that a lot of you are presumably pre-med and will be here for the summer doing research or an internship, you’ll be around to enjoy the spectacle.

So venture forth into this vibrant community of creatives, forge your way, grasp for inspiration and find the artistic spaces that you thrive in.


The Senator Theatre was incorrectly placed on Greenmount Avenue. It is actually on York Road. Additionally, The Walter’s Art Museum was mischaracterized as a contemporary art museum. Its collections actually feature historical works of art from around the world.

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