It will be a spot for enthusiasts from Baltimore and beyond to appreciate intriguing works of art, and the legendary neighborhood of Highlandtown—that’s how Felicia Zannino-Baker envisions Highlandtown Gallery, scheduled to open later this summer.
The space, at 248 S. Conkling St., will house an interactive gallery and coffee shop, plus a cupcakery and an Italian
“There may be a painter, a sculptor and a jewelry artist adjacent to each other,” says Zannino-Baker, showing off mobile display walls inside the gallery space.
Not limited to visual art, the space could feature a poet or an acoustic guitarist, she adds.
One thing will be permanent—a “History of Highlandtown” exhibit, with a constantly-running slideshow, memorabilia, and Highlandtown-themed gifts.
Zannino-Baker plans to host Gary Helton, author of “Highlandtown” and “Highlandtown Revisited” of the “Images of America” series to offer his expert insights on the historic Baltimore neighborhood.
Early exhibits will feature Highlandtown landmarks and personalities such as city councilman Dominic “Mimi” DiPietro and the Grand Theatre.
Zannino-Baker has a special affinity for the neighborhood in which she grew up.
“I remember Eastern Ave. having every single thing you could possibly imagine,” she says. “There were shoe shops, dress shops, music shops, and sports shops. Even though they weren’t the couture things on Charles St., the high-high end, they were still very, very lovely.”
In that vein, two purveyors of sweet treats—Elaine’s Brown Sugar and Charm City Italian Ice—will be opening in adjacent commercial space in the Highlandtown Gallery building.
“This building is going to be community related, arts related, wellness related, and there will be something decadent,” Zannino-Baker says.
Elaine’s Brown Sugar is a cupcake bakery that may already be familiar to Baltimore’s baked goods connoisseurs.
Revelers at the Highlandtown Wine Festival already got a preview of Charm City Italian Ice, as owner George Myers attended with his pushcart.
“I am excited at the opportunity to be a part of the community,” Myers says. “The concept for Charm City Italian Ice is to be a cozy and comfortable place for the community to come and enjoy our Italian ice and unique treats. I believe we will have something to satisfy everyone’s cravings, young kids and adults alike.”
Inside Highlandtown Gallery itself, guests will serve themselves High Grounds coffee while taking in the art.
The building, which will house the three businesses downstairs plus two apartments, one on the first floor and one on the second, has come a long way. In August 2011, 248 S. Conkling was among the hardest-hit structures in the Mid-Atlantic earthquake. Zannino-Baker said that the bricks from the neighboring building fell onto her building, collapsing the roof on the Gough St. storefront that will house Charm City Italian Ice. The front part of the structure was bowed out as well.
“This building was the one that was in the paper and on the news all the time,” she says.
Even without the earthquake, the building required extensive renovations. Zannino-Baker has converted what was originally seven apartment units upstairs into two spacious units.
“We’re helping the community by having fewer cars on the street,” she says.
When she acquired the building, the facade was brick on top of formstone on top of brick.
“The bad-taste police were not here to give a ticket to whoever did that,” Zannino-Baker jokes.
Now the facade has been stripped to the original brick, and round-edged trim—”Baltimore bullnose”—adorns the doorways.
Zannino-Baker, principal of Magnolia Designs LLC, has been an interior designer for two decades. She has placed the work of local artists into her designs, and she also serves on the board of the Highlandtown Arts District.
The Highlandtown Gallery is about to launch a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo.com. The goal is to raise $10,000, which, Zannino-Baker says, goes right to the artists. When artists rent exhibition space for three months, they get a month free, she says.
A donation of $10 earns the giver a chocolate “baci,” or kiss.
“Of course, if I’m in here, since I’m Italian, I’m going to give you a real hug and kiss and say thank you,” Zannino-Baker says.
by Erik Zygmont