TWO THUMBS UP FOR BALTIMORE -or- How to judge a City by its Forever 21

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Baltimore Museum of Art Sculpture Garden

So, my expectations weren’t high when I tagged along on a trip to Baltimore for the weekend. No offense to all you Maryland-ers out there, but I just hadn’t heard great things about the city- so I was planning on spending my weekend holed up in a hotel room with my e-reader and a hoard of chocolate.

But as usual, my adventure-seeking personality took over (well, maybe the hotel wi-fi wasn’t free). And I have to say, I’m impressed! Baltimore is Portland, Maine meets Detroit. As in, its a new England seaside town (city) with loads of cute shops, homey pubs, and history up the wazoo- but without that feeling that its ‘finished’ and done evolving. I’m loyal to Boston/Cambridge/Somerville, having lived here for three years now, but from an urban perspective it feels like it has nowhere left to go. So yes, Baltimore has lots of vacancy, and its easy to accidentally wander into a block or neighborhood where you don’t feel the safest. But vacancy alongside new trendy bars and restaurants creates exciting potential. And the world-class Baltimore Museum of Art (including a new amazing Sarah Oppenheimer intervention, an extensive impressionist collection, an idyllic sculpture park, and a shiny new contemporary art wing) is free! We can talk later about how the best way to become a contemporary artist is to glue dirty “found” objects to a canvas. Or to other found objects.

And if that argument isn’t enough for you, I’ll use Baltimore’s flagship Forever 21 store as a case study. If you’ve ever been into a Forever 21, you know that they are brightly colored, synthetic fibered, madness. Finding an outfit is equivalent to digging for gold. But not in Baltimore! The store was so organized, I had to double check to make sure I wasn’t in J.Crew (Oh, hello, gold studded booty shorts, guess I’m still in F21!). And this was right across from the bustling, tourist-ridden harborfront, on memorial day weekend no less. I barely even had to wait in line – clearly they had their shit (can I say that?) together. So, if Forever 21 can tell us anything, then watch out, world, here comes Baltimore!

 image: photo from the free (!)  sculpture park at the Baltimore Museum of Art

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