Best of Baltimore
Best of Baltimore 2022: Arts & Culture
Our annual compendium of the people and places that make Charm City great.
Edited by Lydia Woolever
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIKE MORGAN
Figures loom large at the American Visionary Art Museum in Federal Hill. There is the 10-foot statue of Divine in her iconic red Pink Flamingos dress. There is the 15-foot Fifi, the fluffy, googly-eyed pink poodle of the institution’s beloved Kinetic Sculpture Race. But there is no figure more towering than the benevolent and imaginative Rebecca Hoffberger, whose avalanche of strawberry-blond hair and wide, earnest smile have been the centerpiece of the merry, mosaic-ed AVAM since she opened its doors in 1995. Retiring this year, Hoffberger has made an indelible mark on the local and national arts scene, creating a home for outsider artists and, in turn, a welcome space for all to find their own sense of unlikely awe.
Hopefully this will be the first of many awards won by Jon Bernthal for his depiction of corrupt cop Wayne Jenkins, leader of the notorious Gun Trace Task Force, in David Simon’s HBO miniseries We Own This City (based on the Justin Fenton book of the same name). With a coiled intensity, Bernthal showed us a Jenkins who was charming, cocky, back-slapping—a good ol’ boy with a malicious streak. Bernthal explored the fullness of this character—his aggrieved sense of entitlement, his inflated notion of self, his casual brutality, and, occasionally, even his kindness (if nothing else, he was a devoted father). And, no small feat, Bernthal absolutely nailed the Baltimore accent. (It might help that he grew up in nearby Cabin John, Maryland.) The way the actor said “amb-u-laaaance”? Chef’s kiss.
ARTIST TO WATCH
It is no small feat to capture in a work of art the mightiness of a man like South Baltimore’s own Congressman Elijah Cummings. But this 34-year-old West Baltimore native has spent his artistic career examining race, class, identity, hardship, and joy—the sort of multitudinous view of the world that made Cummings himself such a vital leader. The MICA MFA graduate has works in permanent collections like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and our own Baltimore Museum of Art, which chose Gibbs to paint the official portrait of the late civil rights champion, now on view at the U.S. Capitol. It’s a powerful painting, showcasing the bright vision and bold fortitude of both native sons.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TYRONE SYRANNO WILKENS
MUSICIAN TO WATCH
Few sounds capture the multifaceted feeling of this city more than the searing call of a single trumpet line by musician Brandon Woody. A Baltimore School for the Arts grad and Brubeck Institute alum, the talented 24-year-old creates ethereal, enlivened, old-soul, yet future-minded music needed in the 21st century.
SHELTER BY LAWRENCE JACKSON
Author Lawrence Jackson takes you on his circuitous journey from his childhood neighborhood of Park Heights to the wealthy enclave of Homeland, where he bought a house upon his return to Baltimore as a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of English and History at Johns Hopkins University. The distance between the two neighborhoods is only 4.5 miles, but it’s as long and fraught an odyssey as any in this country, and Jackson, who founded the Billie Holiday Project for Liberation Arts at Hopkins, meticulously chronicles all the surreal and difficult complications along the way. The memoir is both a personal and wide-ranging examination of history, place, and race, and a work of literature like nothing else set in present-day Baltimore.
GUARDING THE ARTS
Baltimoreans, who have long trekked to the Baltimore Museum of Art for the splendid Cone Collection, this year beat a path to the museum for something entirely new: a collection curated by the museum’s security guards. Seventeen guards chose works of art from the BMA’s extensive permanent collection, some long-unseen, writing the catalog, helping with installation design, and planning the program. The resulting two-room exhibition—powerful, idiosyncratic, surprisingly funny—combined paintings by the likes of Grace Hartigan and Mickalene Thomas with a wide variety of artworks, including a totem by an unknown Haida artist, a Louise Bourgeois sculpture, and a chair built of pencils.
Filmed entirely in Maryland, Strawberry Mansion—co-written and directed by Baltimore’s Albert Birney along with his creative partner Kentucker Audley—is impossible to describe, by design. Futuristic and retro, sophisticated and scrappy, it’s a sci-fi phantasmagoria where corporations inject advertising into our dreams. Audley plays a fedora-sporting dream auditor who meets an eccentric old woman who stubbornly refuses to turn her dream log over to the government. Then he enters her dreams and falls in love with her younger self. If that sounds trippy—wait until you get to the talking frogs and tree men. Too weird for some audiences. Perfect for Baltimore.
RAOUL MIDDLEMAN STUDIO MUSEUM
On a quiet corner of Mount Vernon, a former rowhome—and one-time residence of an iconic Baltimore artist—has been turned into a hidden gem of the city’s art scene. Downstairs, a sleek rotating gallery exhibits rare sketches and well-known paintings, while upstairs, the workspace of late painter Raoul Middleman sits largely as he left it—his easel and brushes at the ready, the walls covered in art and paint. If you never met the largerthan-life Middleman, a longtime MICA professor, you’ll find him encapsulated in the paint-splashed walls of the Raoul Middleman Studio Museum, run by his family at 943 N. Calvert Street.
The Folks at Home
A hefty dose of American pop culture can be credited to film and television writer and producer Norman Lear. See: Sanford & Sons, All in the Family, etc. And this year at Center Stage, his repertoire received a vibrant spin-off, thanks to Baltimore playwright R. Eric Thomas. His production followed married opposites Roger and Brandon, who shared one home in South Baltimore with three eccentric parents. Although the interracial crew butt heads at first, their path to smooth cohabitation yielded ample laughs (and yes, some tears).
COURTESY OF TERI HENDERSON/ BRIA STERLING-WILSON
Teri Henderson has been a vital creative force on the Baltimore arts and media scene for years now, first in her editorial and gallery role with Bmore Art, and now in her new position at the Baltimore Beat. Along the way, her passion project—creating both a digital archive and physical book of works by local, national, and global Black collage artists—has been equally noteworthy. Henderson’s Instagram is a treasure trove of talent. It also alerts followers to exhibitions and events to see these artworks IRL.