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Stan the Man

Posted 11/21/2001

Many thanks for Ian Nagoski's in-depth article on Stan Vanderbeek (Film, Nov. 7). I was a student of Stan's in the late '70s. His was an enlightening soul filled with mirth and genuine enthusiasm for his art and his students. I dearly miss the gleam he put in the eye of experimental art.

I am not surprised that the retrospective showing of his work took place far away from where he used to teach, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County fine-arts department, for the aforementioned spirit is completely vacant in the testicularly challenged regime that occupies that building now. I was recently a graduate student of these pedagogues. There is not enough space in your entire paper to list what I think they are doing wrong with art education there.

Suffice it to say that if I were the president of UMBC and were building a new tech center, I would send the entire imaging and digital-arts faculty to the subbasement of the Political Science Building and take their expensive toys away and give them some poster paints and placards to pontificate their leftist agenda with. They are, after all, redundant! All their precious issues have been handled better on Oprah. Then I would hire as many Vanderbeeks as I could find. Because Stan Vanderbeek was not only a gifted artist, he was also in touch with real people in the real world. Many former students of his who have successful careers in the film and video fields owe their start to the experience gained by working on real projects that Stan brought to UMBC. We need to bring in people of diverse political and economic backgrounds as well as ethnic/ gender ones to arts education--people who are all dedicated to teaching students how to have careers in the real world, not just inside the ivory bunker of academia.

Oh, by the way, the much touted (and now flawed) Imaging Research Center at UMBC was supposed to be the Stan Vanderbeek Imaging Research Center, but someone's ego was too tumescent to allow it!

Steve Estes
Baltimore

the fire next time
I want to thank Molly Rath for taking the time to report on the Remington community and the proposed apartment building for the former Inferno site (Mobtown Beat, Oct. 31). I appreciate that the story is a complicated one to tell and that it gets "curiouser and curiouser" all the time. I predict that the real development plan will not be seen unless and until the rezoning is granted.

The Remington Neighborhood Alliance did a study of alternative development possibilities permitted under the existing zoning, and in the picture accompanying the article I am holding the report from that effort. The city, the community, and the developers would save a lot of money and time if a community-friendly alternative were promoted.

Rowhouse development and a day-care facility were just two of the possibilities mentioned, and both would likely prove to be very successful. Either project would also fit nicely into our community.

A high-end rowhouse development could represent a project on the scale of $2.5 million to $3 million that would help to stabilize, if not increase, the value of the properties adjacent to it. A low-impact residential project would benefit the community and strengthen Baltimore, since the city is only as strong as its communities.

Rowhouses would promote home-ownership and a long-term commitment to Baltimore. They would generate badly needed property and piggyback taxes. They would promote having families move back to the city, and might even promote "motherhood and apple pie" too.

There is room in Remington for the wide array of people that are already living here, and, given the chance, I believe that we can improve the environment to enhance the quality of life of our current and future residents. We need to be focusing on the whole of our community and not just this piece of it. If the city would support our efforts, we might be able to deliver a lot more than the proposed spot development ever could.

I would urge that the communities be brought back to the table instead of being alienated by our government and its agencies. This is the greatest city in America because of the people who live here and stayed here when times were tough. Baltimore's citizens deserve the best government in America and they deserve a chance to speak for their communities.

I am left with this question: Why do developers have better access to our elected officials than community leaders and residents?

Ward Eisinger
President, Remington Neighborhood Alliance

Baltimore

I read with interest the Oct. 31 Mobtown Beat story about the Remington Neighborhood Alliance (RNA). I've been a Remington resident for a year (I rent from a friend who bought a house), and when I first learned about the organization I assumed it would be something I would support. This was the case until I read one of its fliers in which RNA members stated their concern that if the luxury apartments don't rent they will become Section 8 housing, and Section 8 housing is undesirable because it drives down property values. (Section 8 vouchers and certificates enable households to rent units without paying full market rent. The household has to pay at least 30 percent of its income, and sometimes more, and HUD pays the difference between 30 percent of tenant income and a "payment standard" or "fair market rent"--which may be less than actual rent.)

I noticed that this wasn't a concern brought up by RNA in the City Paper article. I would like to think that sometime after that flier was sent the RNA realized:

1) There is no study that proves that subsidized housing drives down property values, and in fact there are several studies that demonstrate that subsidized housing does not drive down property values.

2) One could assume that the RNA concern is that poor people, unemployed people, and especially poor and unemployed people of color (the people who are presumed to use Section 8 housing) are undesirable. Aside from the fact that these assumptions are racist and classist (something it's not nice to see in a community organization that theoretically represents a diverse community), they're also not true. Eligibility for Section 8 housing is either below 50 percent or 80 percent of area median income (AMI), and AMI is generally quite high -- probably $50,000 to $60,000 per year in the Baltimore area. So we're not talking about people who are very poor. In addition, many people with Section 8 are disabled, many are elderly, and many are white.

It is not difficult to conclude that while the RNA professes to represent the Remington community, its members have clear ideas about which community members are most worth representing. I hope I'm wrong about this and that the members have officially retracted their statements about Section 8 housing. It would make it much easier for me to support their work.

Rachel Roisman
Baltimore

Curtain Catcalls
My letter on the Mechanic Theatre (The Mail, Nov. 7) was not intended to denigrate or challenge Brennen Jensen's aesthetic sensibilities (Charmed Life, Oct. 24). My whole point was, as he riposted, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." You could dismiss the Mechanic as a cheaply built hulk--poured concrete must cost a lot less than stonework--and observe that they didn't even bother to finish the surfaces. Or you could feel that the architect, within the constraints of the owner's budget, in an era when formal ornamentation was out of style, produced a freestanding building of artfully balanced masses that intriguingly exploited an essential aspect of the nature of cement in reproducing a surface reminiscent of the mold: the knots, the grain, the asymmetry of wood.

In a lot of modern art, paint is splattered, thrown, poured, trowled on with a palette knife. Brutal? Or spontaneous and fresh?

The Mechanic replaced the old Ford's Theatre, a thoroughly traditional structure equally unsatisfactory for the viewing of plays. In the 1940s I was part of a gaggle of Western High School girls (1944 was the 100th anniversary of the school's founding) who, every Saturday afternoon, climbed Ford's steep second balcony to sit with pinched knees in the $2 seats watching operettas on the faraway stage (The Student Prince, The Desert Song, etc.). The Mechanic is a place of amusement, bemusement, pop music, thrilling but harmless spectacle, and once in a while a thoughtful depiction of experience, where people once dressed to the nines to see plays from New York. Maybe they still do. (I haven't been there in years.) Nobody actually gets killed in it. The Roman Colosseum is my idea of brutal; Mayan temples too--especially those skull racks.

Elinor Kerpelman
Baltimore

Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. On that count alone I would like to congratulate Elinor Kerpelman for being, in all likelihood, the only person in the entire city to find beauty in the Mechanic Theatre, which, to my mind, is one of the ugliest abominations ever foisted on the people of Baltimore. Its very attitude is ugly--it turns its back on Charles Street, the patrician main street of the city, showing us only its parking entrance and load-in doors. What passes for a facade is turned in toward the false construct of Hopkins Plaza--the pitiful successor to the once-bustling natural intersection of Hopkins Place a little to the west, now disfigured beyond recognition. The plaza and its fountains and buildings can only be construed as "elegant" if one measures elegance by the crashing monstrosities of the apartment blocks that were thrust by the Ceausescu regime into the formerly beautiful streets of Bucharest. The Mechanic's walls, with the imprint of their plywood molds, may indeed be a refreshing and interesting change from conformity. What a relief to be rid of the crass vaingloriousness of marble columns, gilded garlands, and bourgeois foolishness like the "Baltimorea" statues, now left forgotten at Cylburn Arboretum.

Once inside the mini-monolith, one might be able to notice the refreshing modernity a bit better were one not smashed uncomfortably into a sardine-can-sized lobby with one's fellow theater-sufferers. Perhaps the auditorium will offer some respite? Forget it--the seats are as cramped and tight as those in the old Howard Theatre, a 1912 nickelodeon, just a few blocks away. And the old seats at the Howard had more upholstery.

Sadly, the concept that the Mechanic was built through the joyous efforts of The People to provide themselves with a temple to the arts couldn't be further from the truth. It was built by a man whose primary interests were monetary. No fault there--the same motivations build most theaters. In fact, it was the Lyric Theatre, nee Music Hall (the "Opera House" designation is much more recent), that in 1895 was built by subscription, with the purpose of providing a suitable home for music and theater. As to the dearth of other theaters in '60s Baltimore . . . well, that was due in large part to the same person who erected the Mechanic. Fearing that the Stanley (or Stanton) Theatre, which he also owned, would prove stiff competition for the new Mechanic, Morris Mechanic had the barely 40-year-old movie palace, Baltimore's largest and finest, destroyed. So too the elegant Century Theatre and its upstairs sister, the Valencia.

In light of the callous disregard that Morris Mechanic and many others showed the older theaters and the city's streetscape, and their rallying cry of urban renewal, perhaps it is a blessing for the now outdated Mechanic that it has a champion. Nonetheless, it is sad to think that future generations may have to gaze upon that horror and consider it symbolic of our city.

D.P. Gibbs
Baltimore

Tomorrow never knows
Forgive me for the low blow of picking on the "comics," but every City Paper reader I know, political leaning notwithstanding, finds Tom Tomorrow's commentary drudgingly monotonous and vapid. Instead of critical, clever, and insightful jabs of humor, which any good political cartoon possesses, Tom can only muster the same obtuse and clumsy pokes week in and week out. For the past three months it seems his subject matter has been rotting on the vine in the likes of Gary Condit or the Bush administration's terrorism-fighting rhetoric. Yawn. Even Mr. Tomorrow would have to admit to such yesterday tactics . . . yuk-yuk.

CP could use this space to land a few more adverts; even a weather report would be a severe improvement.

Lee Poechmann
Baltimore

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