Today Peale Director Nancy Proctor talked about the Peale’s past, present and future on WYPR’s Humanities Connection. Hear the broadcast or read the full transcript below.
Phoebe Stein, Executive Director of Maryland Humanities: Did you know that the Peale is the oldest museum building in the United States? Nancy Proctor, director of the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture, tells us a bit about the Peale’s past, present, and future in Baltimore.
Nancy Proctor: Baltimore is one of the oldest cities in the United States. But its reputation has been shaped by a small number of narratives that don’t adequately represent the full diversity of Baltimore’s voices. Baltimore needs new narratives in order to be understood and valued, globally and at home. And as the African proverb goes, “Every time an elder dies, a library burns to the ground.” We also need to save the old stories before they disappear forever.
The Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture aims to help people see Baltimore in a new light by serving as a production house for narratives of the City, new and old. The new Center is based in the historic Peale Museum, a place with a fascinating story of its own. Rembrandt Peale first opened the doors of his Museum and Gallery of the Fine Arts on August 15, 1814. Coming from a family of accomplished artists, explorers, and natural scientists, Peale demonstrated gas light in his Museum’s galleries, and then introduced the first street lamps powered by gas across the city. “Light City” was the first town in America to use the new technology, and The Gas Light Company Peale founded in 1816 has now been in continuous operation for more than 200 years. It’s known today as BGE.
Peale’s Museum, on the other hand, didn’t last so long. By 1830 it had closed, and the building was purchased by the City to be used as its first City Hall. At the end of the 19th century, it became the first public high school for African-American students in Baltimore. From the 1930s through 1996, the building served as the City’s Municipal Museum once more, commonly known as “the Peale.” For the past 20 years, the building has been largely vacant, but has hosted a number of critically-acclaimed events, including The Contemporary’s 2016 exhibition “Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars,” by Abigail DeVille, and Submersive Theater’s ground-breaking production, “H.T. Darling’s Incredible Musaeum Presents: The Treasures of New Galapagos, Astonishing Aquisitions from the Perisphere.” That sold-out show, inspired in part by the Peale’s own history, will return to the Peale in November for a limited run.
The new Peale Center will continue to host dynamic exhibitions and programs throughout the 2017 renovation of the building’s exterior, including, in October, Birdland in the Anthropocene, curated by Baker Prize-winning artist, Lynne Parks. We’re also reaching out to local groups and artists to co-produce programs in Baltimore’s communities. The Peale’s core initiative is Be Here: Baltimore, featuring authentic stories of the city as told by the people who live and work here. Be Here: Baltimore was piloted last summer, and has helped publish more than 1,200 Baltimore stories on a range of free and open platforms in the past year.
When the Peale’s renovation is complete in 2020, the historic building will host a Media Maker Space, giving the city’s culture keepers the resources and expertise they need to publish anything from mobile apps and VR experiences, to exhibitions and documentary films. By supporting the city’s creators, the Peale aims to catalyze a new American Renaissance that will yield a more inclusive record of the city, its people, and its places.
To find out more about what’s happening at the Peale, you can come by for tours, and live storytelling with WYPR’s Aaron Henkin during our Founder’s Day Open House, August 14-15, at 225 Holliday Street, across from the Abel Wolman Municipal Building.
Phoebe Stein: More information about upcoming events at the Peale can be found at thepealecenter.org. Maryland Humanities is a statewide nonprofit that creates and supports educational experiences in the humanities that inspire all Marylanders to embrace lifelong learning, exchange ideas openly, and enrich their communities. Humanities Connection is produced by Maryland Humanities for WYPR. For Maryland Humanities, I’m Phoebe Stein.