Maryland Hall…Then and Now

Annapolis was dubbed the “Athens of America” from its very early colonial days. This charmed seaport was a hub of the new American culture. Artists, musicians, designers and politicians found a welcome audience here.

The buildings were exquisite and renowned for the quality of detail and many stand today as a timeless reminder of the gracious reputation of the early planners and settlers.

The Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts (MHCA) was a natural offspring of the imaginative roots in this city.

In 1898, Annapolis had the only public high school that served all of Anne Arundel County. By the 1930s, it was evident that there was a need for more space and a sturdy building that would provide the best environment for learning. The building at 801Chase Street opened its doors in 1932. This structure had state of the art terrazzo floors, large, well-lit classrooms and space for all the amenities that teenagers needed. By the time another growth spurt necessitated more room, the gem of 1932 was very needy.

In 1979, the building was scheduled for demolition. Local citizens had the vision and desire to remold the early promise of culture and fine arts by gathering friends and local politicians to save the building and designate it for artists of all forms.

Thus with financing and support from Anne Arundel County, AA County Board of Education, Anne Arundel Fine Arts Foundation, AA County Commission on Arts and Culture and the Maryland State Arts Council, the dreams started becoming reality.

At its inception, the lower floor high-ceilinged classrooms were transformed into studios for potters, sculptures, artists in paint and printmaking. The larger rooms were ideal rehearsal spaces for voice, instruments and dance. On the main floor there were more rehearsal rooms, office areas and performing areas. The high school auditorium was not just spacious and beautifully appointed, the acoustics were (and are) wonderful. The stage would be ample for musical performances as well as dance and chorale.

The committee envisioned the gymnasium as a perfect site for all exhibitions. Not forgetting the top floor, this was designated to be artists’ studios.

The local creative community leapt at the opportunity to reform and reshape the space into a spectacular venue for all manner of artistry.

The state had a matching endowment to restore and refurbish the center. Local businesses donated funds. The project, though always ongoing, took many years and many dedicated people to develop and form the character it enjoys today.

The hall is now resident home to the Annapolis Chorale, Annapolis Opera Inc., the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Ballet Theater of Annapolis. Three main exhibit halls actively support shows year-round. There is an artist-in-residence program that gives studio space and housing to promising artists for up to three months during the year.

The rotating faculty/staff offers enrichment programs throughout the year. For the youngest citizens, there is Kindermusik for birth to five. For adults, ballet, painting, and ceramics.

As Linnell Bowen, the Executive Director, said in an interview, “How many small towns support this wide expanse of arts in their backyard?” Lucky Annapolitans…that’s who!

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What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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