Baltimore, MD

Tour Baltimore's AVAM With the Architects - Inside the Vision

Susan Kelley

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American Visionary Art MuseumPhoto Courtesy of American Visionary Art Museum

Recently voted Baltimore's most beloved space, the American Visionary Art Museum, (AVAM) is offering a virtual tour with the architects of the space, Rebecca Swanston and Diane Cho on May 21 from 1:00 PM to 1:30 PM. The pair will offer reflections on the museum's design, and provide comment on its features and the process of creating Charm City's iconic space.

The museum was featured as Most Beloved in Baltimore Architecture Foundation's competition and it's no surprise that the location was chosen. CNN has called it "one of the most fantastic museums anywhere in America," after all. According to its own website, "AVAM specializes in original thematic exhibitions that seamlessly combine art, science, philosophy, humor and especially social justice and betterment."

The competition was part of Baltimore Architecture Foundation's Architecture Madness Tournament, which included 64 Baltimore buildings built from 1870 to today. The event was hosted in celebration of The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Baltimore’s 150th anniversary.

The museum focuses on "outsider art," or "art brut," which simply means that the artists' work that is displayed within need not come from clasically trained artists, and isn't what you'd typically find in a museum. The 1.1 acre space has a permanent collection of roughly 4,000 pieces. THe museum officially opened to the public in November of 1995.

The building itself boasts three floors of exhibition space, while the total campus includes a Tall Sculpture Barn and Wildflower Garden. It also contains large exhibition and event spaces in the Jim Rouse Visionary Center. There are murals along the Museum's exterior walls which were created and installed by members of AVAM's youth-at-risk and youth-incarcerated mosaic apprenticeship program which began in 2000.

Rebecca Hoffberger, AVAM's founder & director, will join with Swanston and Cho to offer her perspective on collaborating with them to bring the museum to fruition.

The building itself was not designed from nothing. Baltimore city agreed to give Hoffberger, as founder, a section of land on the south shore of what is Baltimore's Inner Harbor under the agreement that the organizers would remediate residual pollution from what had been a copper paint factory and a warehouse that occupied the site at one point. Working to preserve instead of remove, the concept was to incorporate the Trolley Works building and enlarge it with an addition, thereby echoing the curving architecture and not losing the existing beauty along the south shore. It was a perfect fit, and the American Visionary Art Museum cracks the code of preservationist architecture.

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Curving space of the AVAM BuildingPhoto courtesy of Art Geek.

The curved mosaic front of the museum building creates a strong sense of motion. Architect Diane Cho, AIA of Cho Benn Holback + Associates (today Quinn Evans) spearheaded the 2004 expansion of the museum which transformed an old whiskey barrel warehouse into the Jim Rouse Visionary Center.

Both the original project and the expansion are beautiful examples of adaptive use – the creative repurposing of historic buildings.

In this virtual tour, the architects will reflect on the museum's design, what makes it unique, and how it fits into Baltimore's urban landscape as well as their vision in bringing it to life.

The collections in the AVAM include contemporary artists like Howard Finster, Vanessa German, Leo Sewell, Judith Scott, Leonard Knight, Ben Wilson, and an impressive collection of pieces from what the museum notes are "farmers, housewives, mechanics, the disabled, the homeless...all inspired by the fire within."

The virtual tour is presented in partnership with the Baltimore Architecture Foundation (BAF) and Baltimore Heritage, as part of their Virtual Histories Series. Tickets are by donation, and will support BAF and Baltimore Heritage.

The virtual event is hosted on Zoom. Reservations are available through Event Brite, upon registration, you will receive an active link to the event.

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Susan is a runner, avid traveler, mom of three grown children, and a newly-transplanted Baltimorean who follows tech trends, especially at the intersection of health and the public good. Sound intriguing? It is. Often, technology is at odds with the "earthy-crunchy," but sometimes, it is a real boost. Susan is an avowed supporter of women's and human rights, so that situates well here.

Baltimore, MD
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