The sound of several children simultaneously practicing instruments is not a sound most people find relaxing. But to Sarah Feiss, mother of three and Bryn Mawr School teacher, listening to the cacophonous strains of concertos or scales in the hallways of Johns Hopkins Peabody Conservatory’s Towson branch is one of her favorite times of the week. “I love hearing all of the different songs from different instruments mixing together,” she says. Her time spent waiting while her daughter Charlotte, 11, has her weekly violin lesson is meditative and memory-filled.
For nearly three years, Charlotte, a 6th grader at Bryn Mawr, has studied violin with Peabody’s Yoon-mee Chong, the same teacher Feiss studied with during high school. “Playing violin was such an enriching and fulfilling part of my childhood that I wanted her to have that same opportunity.” Sometimes at home, Feiss will join her daughter for a duet. Of course, there is some parental cajoling. “Charlotte doesn’t always love practicing, but she’s always proud when she passes a song, plays for a friend or performs at a recital, so I hope she’s gaining something from it as well,” Feiss adds.
Like many Baltimoreans, Feiss has discovered that this isn’t just a great town for the arts—it’s the perfect place to raise an artist. Charm City’s many cultural charms include a world-class symphony, art museums, an arts college, a conservatory and theatre, dance companies and galleries for every taste. Our latest MacArthur genius grant recipient is Joyce J. Scott, a sculptor and jewelry maker who graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).
Baltimore’s arts scene makes it easy for young artists to find a community. Let’s start with two nationally recognized public arts magnet schools, the city’s Baltimore School for the Arts (BSFA) and Baltimore County’s George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology. Both schools garner more than their share of national art awards—this year, Carver artists won one-third of Maryland’s 42 national medalists in the Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards—and both schools include an impressive alumni list of professional artists. This fall, BSFA launched its Charles C. Baum Film and Visual Storytelling Program.
Auditioning for Carver was a no-brainer for Flynn Walkinshaw, a painter and MICA freshman. He was the kid who always had a pencil in his hand. Both his parents are artists, but after seeing the artwork lining the Carver hallways for the first time, Walkinshaw knew immediately that he found his creative home. “It’s so great to be inspired by the work of high schoolers from years past, artists who were teenagers just like me,” he says of the school’s permanent collection of student work from more than 20 years. “In school in general, people tell you what you shouldn’t be. Carver teachers taught me to stick to my vision and create something that I, first and foremost, would appreciate and that someone, someday might, too.”
The latter came a little sooner. Walkinshaw graduated last May with several national awards and the coveted Carver Principal’s Purchase, a competition among senior visual arts students to have their work chosen for the school’s collection. “Baltimore is an excellent town to grow up in as an artist,” Walkinshaw says.
There are plenty of impressive arts programs beyond arts magnet schools [see sidebar for a few highlights]. When Lara Cochran entered Towson High School, she had no idea that the student literary magazine Colophon was among the best and oldest in the country, or that there even was a literary magazine. She just knew that she loved to write. Middle school math class had been her muse, and between algebraic equations, she’d write poetry. “For me, writing is therapy,” says the 2016 Towson High School graduate and Fordham University sophomore. Upperclassman friends suggested that Cochran might enjoy joining the Colophon staff, so she did, but for the first two years, was too shy to submit her work for publication.
As a junior, Cochran became managing editor and began training to assume the role of editor for her senior year, Colophon’s 50th anniversary year. As editor, she led 23 students and three faculty advisors through curating 50 years’ worth of Colophon art and writing to create a 260-page publication. (In a typical year, the publication clocks in at 60 pages.) “I wanted to hear everyone’s ideas and be fair, but also be true to the book and what we set out to do,” she said. “A few years ago, unless you were a lit nerd, Colophon wasn’t well known. But its reputation has spread. Everyone wanted to submit to the anniversary edition. It was very humbling.” The publication won Maryland’s highest award in 2016, the National Council of Teachers of English Program to Recognize Excellence in Student Literary Magazines, and garnered national prizes including the American Scholastic Association Top-Scoring Magazine and Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s Silver Crown Award.
Cochran plans to get a master’s degree in social work, but still she writes poetry in math class. She also performs at poetry readings at Fordham and collaborated on a few pieces in the university’s satirical paper. “And I edit every single one of my friend’s papers,” she chuckles.
Jillian Locklear Bauersfeld saw the same passion in young performers during her 10 years as theatre director at Calvert Hall College High School and as director, performer and choreographer in regional community theater productions. She is a big proponent of classes and camps for budding actors but cautions against over scheduling: “Too many classes and skill work at a young age can take the passion out of it.” For students wanting roles beyond their high school’s productions, she recommends looking where every teenager is anyway—on social media. That’s where many high school theater directors post auditions, especially for single-sex schools looking to fill male or female roles. The region’s community theater programs and children’s theater programs are also great places to get onstage time.
Her advice to young performers: find a balance. “Theatre and the arts worlds are a large commitment,” says Bauersfeld, who is now the choreographer and director of the Audrey Hermann Spotlighters Theatre. “Young performers need to learn and grow from their experiences on the stage, but also need to love it and value the discipline needed to be successful.”
Here’s more information on area art programs.