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I’m Proud of You Station North

Humor columnist Mike Moran takes a look at how things have changed in the city's "arts district."

Station North, I owe you an apology. When the title “Arts District” was bestowed upon you a few years back, I have to confess, I openly scoffed.

Sure you had the (artist living space) Copy Cat building and the too cool for Hollywood cinema, the Charles Theater, but otherwise the only arts you seemed to have going for you back than was the art of inspiring epic tales of decadence and depravity spun within the walls of courtrooms, NA meetings, and writing sessions for The Wire

Today however, I must humbly admit Station North, I am proud of you. In less than a decade you’ve gone from a district of despair to a hipster haven. Like a member of a 12-step program, or Domino’s Pizza, you’ve acknowledged your faults and worked hard toward change.

It seems like just yesterday, the very successive utterance of the words “North” and “Avenue”, sent chills down the spines of Baltimore residents the world over. Now you can’t throw a crack vile down your once notorious strip (between Howard and Calvert streets), without hitting someone doing something culturally enriching.

Whether it’s burlesque at The Windup Space, break dancing at Joe Squared, or simply ironically dressed art students on bikes from the MICA Studio Center, your image has successfully recovered, ala, New York’s Times Square (the poor artsy version).

So, you’ve got to tell us Station North, how did you do it?

Is it Batman? Please tell me it’s Batman. No? Ah!

Well I guess the truth is pretty impressive as well.

It seems you were the first ever area in Maryland to be granted the “Arts and Entertainment District” label. This designation has allowed you tax breaks that encourage artist residency as well as the presence of performance/entertainment venues.

This move was so successful for the local arts scene that it even got the attention of CNN who focused on the conversion of Station North’s classic “boarded up shack” ascetic to the new and improved artist living spaces, as evidence of economic recovery.

Of course your ascension has not been without controversy. The “Art District” title seems to have been preceded by a wave of that ever controversial phenomenon of “gentrification”.  This happened back in the early 2000s when we were still doing it all for the Nookie, and doing it at increasing high housing prices. The search for affordable homes drove wealthier buyers in and poorer residents out.

In addition, there is the concern over whether the real winners here are local artists or the property owners receiving the breaks. Some fear that profit motivation could lead the well intentioned Arts District to eventually lose its artsy grit and get all yuppi-fied like NYC’s SoHo or, dare I say it, Fells Point (ugh, you wouldn’t do that to us would you Station North?).

But don’t let the criticism get you down Station North. As far as nonmainstream entertainment goes, you are one of the most exciting places in the city right now. Heck you even have Rain Pryor, star of classic eighties sitcom Head of the Class (and daughter of some obscure comedian I think) taking over that ultra-intimate theater, The Strand (one of my favorite places to do improv).

Now if we could only get Domino’s Pizza to truly make things right and bring back that mischievous but adorable Noid.

mel March 04, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Another great story, Mike! I thoroughly appreciated the Domino's Pizza reference. What a perfect comparison to Station North's transformation.
Sarah M March 05, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Great article Mike. Having just moved to Baltimore recently, I've been to Station North several times and had no idea it once had a reputation as a "bad neighborhood".
Fran M. March 06, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Excellent research!
Josh March 06, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Awesome job, Mike. I had no idea about the tax breaks given to encourage artistry and the presence of performance/entertainment venues in Station North! Now it's all starting to make sense...Keep em coming, Mike!

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