City's Bicentennial Plans Aim for Inclusiveness

by Sindhu Tharayilr

Baltimoreans and tourists alike will soon know what it means to party hard.

In 1997, the city will be celebrating its 200th anniversary through a year-long series of celebrations combining galas, festivals and educational events.

Before the city's incorporation in 1797, the City of Baltimore was known as Baltimore Town. According to Kari Beims, Director of Marketing for the non-profit Baltimore Bicentennial Celebration, Inc. (BBCI), "The organization was founded at Mayor Kurt Schmoke's request to implement, plan and raise the necessary funds for the Bicentennial Celebration "

The City granted BBCI $100,000 over a period of two years for start-up costs. Other sources for much-needed revenue will come from foundation grants such as the Maryland Historical Society, ticket sales and corporate sponsorship packages.

The celebration will begin on December 31 with a New Year's Eve bash.

BBCI has wasted no time in getting out its advertising. While driving on I-95, commuters may spot a giant countdown billboard donated by Penn Advertising, one of BBCI's corporate sponsors The billboard changes daily, reminding commuters that the Bicentennial kickoff is quickly approaching.

According to Ms. Beims, the "200" in the celebration's logo stands for the 200 years Baltimore City has been incorporated. The stars symbolize celebration, and the blue swash is symbolic of water, which is important to Baltimore in both industry and recreation. The logo was created by Blue Sky Design.

The theme of the Bicentennial Celebration will be "Baltimore-America's City of Firsts." In 1997, this catch phrase will replace "Baltimore-The City That Reads" on buses and benches around the city. Such "firsts" include the first U.S. post office system and the first Catholic elementary school in the U.S. Prior to the Civil War, Baltimore ranked first in the nation in its population of non-slave African-Americans.

The Bicentennial Celebration will include a Homecoming Center and Bicentennial Plaza which will stand as a symbolic commemoration of the Bicentennial.

The Homecoming Center, located at the Baltimore City Life Museums, will offer visitors genealogical data on ancestors who may have come through Baltimore's port, the second largest point of immigration in the U.S.

The Bicentennial Plaza will give Baltimoreans a chance to be a part of history. For fifty dollars participants may purchase an engraved brick to be placed in the Plaza, soon to be located at Light and Conway Streets.

BBCI and Green's Ice Cream, another of BBCI's corporate sponsors, are teaming up to encourage family, school or industry reunions during 1997. According to Josh Waldorf, executive director of the BBCI, "We want everyone to be involved." As an incentive, Green's Ice Cream will be providing the public with posters and "how to" reunion kits. Green's has also created a special Bicentennial flavored ice cream and will be at many scheduled events providing free samples.

Artscape may be a familiar summer event to native Baltimoreans but Artscape 1997 is expected to have a bicentennial twist. The Visionary Arts Museum, Walters and Baltimore Museum of Art are busy preparing exhibits geared toward the City's incorporation. Other events will include picnics, scavenger hunts and historical reenactments.

BBCI wants learning to be a part of the Celebration and is therefore incorporating the "pastport" program, which is intended to make the public aware of Baltimore's rich history. Participants will be given a "pastport" similar to an international traveler's passport. When visiting the many historical sites in the city, a stamp will be placed in the book. When the book has been filled, a participant will be eligible for prizes.

One of the larger events will be a block party held at the Convention Center. The Center will be converted into a model of Baltimore City. Visitors can stroll down I-83, visit Bolton Hill or talk with friends in Mount Vernon-all under one roof. Restaurants and organizations will be located in their respective neighborhoods for samples and information. "We'll get a good flavor of the neighborhoods because Baltimore is just rich in personality and I think this is one way to celebrate that," says Ms. Beims.

BBCI and its executive director, Josh Waldorf have recently come under public scrutiny. The public has heard reports and are beginning to wonder if the Bicentennial will take place and if Mr. Waldorf has the background and maturity to pull off a project of this magnitude.

There has also been concern that fundraising and committee work is not going smoothly. "The process of raising money is like a slow dance," acknowledges Mr. Waldorf. He said he has been involved in events planning since 1985 and is confident the Bicentennial Celebration will happen. "Everything is right on track," he assured.

Regarding the seemingly haphazard way in which committees have been constituted, Ms. Beims explained, "A mail campaign went out to colleges, associations, businesses and organizations in Baltimore asking for a representative to serve as a liaison. We have a little bit of everything."

BBCI is asking for volunteers to fill a variety of positions. Businesses are asked to make financial or service donations. Volunteers are needed for office help, event set-up and event greeting.

According to Ms. Beims, approximately 3,000 volunteers are needed throughout the year. "We want everybody involved. We have reasons to be proud in Baltimore and I think it's time we celebrate that and I don't think that one event is going to do it," says Ms. Beims.

After two centuries, Baltimore has much to celebrate. The success of the ambitious Bicentennial plans may rest on individuals willing to volunteer. For more information on events and volunteer opportunities please contact the Baltimore Bicentennial Celebration, Inc. at (410) 244-1997.

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This story was published on Friday, November 8, 1996.