Re-branding Baltimore

It’s been quite a week. My thesis was approved (I defend a week from today), and every day it felt like I woke up to more good news. If this is what post-thesis life is going to be like, there will be no complaints here! But perhaps the most exciting news wasn’t about me at all. If you’ve never actually met Kwame Kwei-Armah, you may not appreciate this week’s news that he has been appointed as the new artistic director of CENTERSTAGE in Baltimore. The season I worked at CENTERSTAGE, Kwame came for the American premier of his play Elmina’s Kitchen. Although it was a play about the West End in Britain, it was staggering how well the issues explored in the play touched on the very problems faced in Baltimore (we even hosted a community forum on the subject). There is not a single person who worked at the theater that season who will not say that Kwame touched them in some way. He’s since been back for subsequent collaborations with the theater, and while no longer in Baltimore, I’ve made my way to the UK twice now to catch up with Kwame and his latest projects. It’s amazing how he still remembers all of us – particularly those of us who were interns at the time. So when word got out on Facebook, the CS alumni were aglow spreading the news (Aaron, my friend and former boss said they might need to stage an intervention for me here as I might explode from the news – which was almost true). In any case, you can read the full story in the article in the Baltimore Sun.

As I watched the video that accompanies the story, it struck me the way in which Kwame talked about Baltimore as a city, the reputation it holds, the way the US and the UK have a negative view of the city filtered through The Wire and other media. And then Kwame poses the question, can the arts and theater help re-brand a city [Baltimore]? This is his mission while he assumes his new role next fall, and if I were to write another thesis, this would be my new topic.

{image via CENTERSTAGE}


  • First off, congratulations on your thesis being accepted. That is fantastique!

    Interesting piece and ideas about how to re-brand a city (a tall order). Oakland (where I currently live) has similar issues to Baltimore. HBO was developing a show to be set here, something like ‘The Wire’ and I believe that either city leaders or some segment of the community effectively shot the idea down; for fear of it further tarnishing Oakland’s already unfavorable reputation.

    I’m currently working my way through ‘The Sopranos’ on Netflix and ‘The Wire’ is up next. I’ve heard so many superb things about the show from all kinds of folks. But they’ve never said anything bad, specifically, about Baltimore itself.

    I’ve never been to Baltimore and don’t know much about it, but if it’s anything like Oakland then I know it’s not all bad. There is plenty of good here, and in any city (I think) if you know where to look or don’t mind exploring with open eyes and mind.

  • Hoooray Kwame!! I love what he says about Art being a mirror that we can hold up to ourselves so that we can ask ourselves if we like what we see.

    He’s going to do some good things in Charm City!

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