Celebrating a Diverse Neighborhood
The neighborhood has many names: Station North Arts & Entertainment District, Koreatown, Charles North, Old Goucher, and more. It is located in Central Baltimore, generally bound on the north by 24th Street, on the south by North Avenue, on the west by Maryland Avenue, and on the east by St. Paul Street.
This project, Asia North, helped Towson University’s Asian Arts & Culture Center (AA&CC) to discover and document some very basic neighborhood history from community members and publications they pointed us toward. Highlights of this history are on view in a gallery at Motor House on North Avenue. They illustrates the expansive and geographically shifting Korean community in Greater Baltimore, and, to our surprise, Towson University’s quiet but significant 54-year history of engaging with this community.
After two years of visioning, planning, and support-seeking, the project eventually consisted of a month-long community exhibit on view March 29–April 28, 2019 at Motor House and a weekend celebration, March 29–31, 2019, throughout the neighborhood, which celebrated the neighborhood’s constantly evolving identities as a Koreatown, arts district, and creative center bringing diverse communities together. AA&CC Program Manager Nerissa Paglinauan curated the Intricate Layers exhibition which brings together works by local artists who are Asian and Asian American. The works express the unique yet interconnected layers of experiences, histories, and identities of the artists and their communities and invite viewers to contemplate and share how individual stories intersect. On the festival weekend, we held an opening party with the artists, our partners, and community members; performances by various Asian and Asian American artists; hands-on art activities and demonstrations; an underground night market; and a tour of the neighborhood’s Korean restaurants. Over 1,500 people attended the weekend events.
Partners & Supporters: From Few to Many
The initial seed of the project was planted in April 2017 during a conversation between me (AA&CC Director since summer 2014) and our colleague, Will Backstrom, at PNC Bank. I had been exploring ways to connect the campus to the community, and Will told me about the neighborhood’s “double identity” as a Koreatown and arts district. (I live in Washington, DC, so had only begun learning about the ins-and-outs of Greater Baltimore).
In January 2018, he arranged the first of several meetings between the AA&CC and the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP), which partners with like-minded organizations and institutions to revitalize Central Baltimore. These conversations led to a third core partnership with the Motor House, a creative and experimental, locally rooted arts hub and performance space. The project stalled a bit until fall 2018 when the three organizations decided to make it work. The time was right. Interest and enthusiasm surged, the number of partners blossomed, and the programming expanded to the point that everyone referred to the project as the First Annual Asia North Festival.
By March 29 we had 19 partners and supporters including: the Abell Foundation, Central Baltimore Partnership, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Maryland State Arts Council, AA&CC Members, TU College of Fine Arts & Communication, Citizens of Baltimore County, WYPR, TU-BTU Presidential Priority (Enrichment Support), Charles North Community Association, Station North Arts District, Midtown Baltimore, Neighborhood Housing Services, Baltimore Asian Pasifika Arts Collective, Charm City Night Market, Johns Hopkins University Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore Jewelry Center, and the Baltimore Kawasaki Sister Cities Committee.
The AA&CC thanks everyone involved for their contributions to this project. It was a truly grassroots, collaborative, energizing effort, showcasing the stories of Greater Baltimore’s creative Asian and Asian American communities. It has nurtured strong partnerships between TU’s AA&CC and organizations and institutions in Greater Baltimore, as well as artists, students, and community advocates throughout the region. We are confident that this year’s event will help us to learn more about the multicultural identities and histories of the region, so we can collaboratively produce even more inclusive, meaningful, and illuminating programs in the future.M