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Penn Ave is Maryland's first Black Arts and Entertainment District

Posted at 4:54 PM, Jul 23, 2019

BALTIMORE — "This is a great day for the city of Baltimore," said councilman Leon Pinkett.

It's a start of a transformation in West Baltimore.

"In its heyday, it was the place. It was the place. We are now approaching that place again," said Marion Blackwell, director of the Historic Pennsylvania Ave Main Street.

The Pennsylvania Avenue corridor is now Maryland's first Black Arts and Entertainment District.

"Unlike other Arts and Entertainment Districts, the Black Arts District is uniquely designed to highlight and celebrate the cultural productions of African Americans and create a new destination centered and catered to black arts, entertainment and culture," said the acting executive director of the district Brion Gill.

“Maryland’s Arts and Entertainment Districts serve an important role in revitalizing communities across the state,” said Maryland Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schulz. “This designation helps attract artists and creative businesses and gives counties and municipalities the ability to develop unique arts experiences that engage residents and attract visitors. I look forward to seeing how these districts utilize the designations for community and economic revitalization.”

The district includes the Arch Social Club, Shake and Bake Family Fun Center, Avenue Bakery, the Enoch Pratt Free Library and vacant properties ready to be revitalized.

"We can think big, dream big and see how we can help black entertainers and black businesses open up restaurants, venues, where we can have music, good jazz music," said Mayor Jack Young.

The district's application was spurred from a community-led revitalization effort that brought together several organizations looking to the corridor’s storied past as a hub of social, economic, and arts activity for Baltimore’s black community. In the area’s heyday, performance venues such as the Royal and Metropolitan theaters and social venues such as the Arch Social Club, Bamboo Lounge, Club Casino, and Club Tijuana hosted a who’s who of black entertainers, and black-owned businesses provided a stable community anchor and locus of commerce on Baltimore’s west side.

"This is not the work of outside forces looking to gentrify and redevelop Baltimore as we have seen across the city. In fact, this initiative seeks to help black ownership and autonomy at all levels: residential, commercial and institutional. We seek to empower black residents, not to push them out of their community," said Gill.

The designation came with three tax credits and $15,000 in funding to attract artists and businesses and help with development and promotion.

"The storied history is not over because today, not only do we celebrate the great past of Pennsylvania Avenue, but today, with the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts and Entertainment District, we write a new chapter to the bright future," said Pinkett.

The Pennsylvania Avenue corridor joins 26 existing Districts in the state. A&E District designations last for 10 years.