Artspace purchased the Ambassador Theater back in 2019, and now the nonprofit is ready to invite the Baltimore community to learn more about the redevelopment of the historic theater into an arts and cultural community center. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member

Artspace on Monday will welcome the Baltimore community to its kick-off event for the redevelopment of the Ambassador Theater with a special unveiling of the marquee and facade improvements. 

Previously, the Ambassador Theater served as a traditional movie theater for Baltimore residents from 1935 to 1968. After its closure, the theater remained vacant for over a decade and experienced a fire in 2012. 

In 2018, Artspace, a nonprofit that provides affordable housing for artists, was invited by Mayor Catherine Pugh and community leaders of northwest Baltimore neighborhoods to determine the potential for renovation.

“We arrived in Baltimore and toured the building,” said Stacey Mickelson, vice president of government affairs for Artspace. “We determined that there was something that could come of it that could be great, but we didn’t quite know exactly what that was going to be.” 

Subsequently, the nonprofit purchased the Ambassador Theater at public auction in the spring of 2019 and began community engagement that summer. The process took about eight months, and Artspace worked with community members and artists across the city to develop a plan for the redevelopment. They landed on turning the theater into an arts and cultural community center for performing and visual artists. 

From there, Artspace submitted a request for proposal to five local architectural design firms. “We wanted to see a team that was minority- and woman-led, and that was a really important piece to the RFP,” said Mickelson. Architects from Quinn Evans were selected to head the project, and Derrick Adams, owner of the Adams Design Group, is assisting them. He also grew up in the Howard Park neighborhood nearby the theater. 

The Monday event will mark the start of the two-year capital campaign for the reconstruction, which Mickelson said will begin in 2023. In order to ensure long-term success and offer affordable rental space in the theater, Artspace wants the facility to be debt-free. It will also give Artspace the opportunity to introduce itself to the city. 

“This event on Monday is really our ability to come out and tell everybody our story who we are as Artspace because a lot of people still don’t know who we are and what our intentions are at the Ambassador Theater,” said Mickelson. 

Currently, plans for the renovation include a small performance venue for about 160 seats and studios for visual artists. Artspace is also considering creating a living gallery wall to act as a canvas for local artists. 

Once the redevelopment is complete, Mickelson said he hopes the arts and cultural center can support Black artists and arts organizations. Although Artspace is completely committed to the project, it also hopes to eventually turn over ownership and operation of the center to the local artists who use it.

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