The Baltimore School for the Arts will launch its first-ever film and visual storytelling program, thanks to a $3 million gift from area philanthropists Mark and Patricia Joseph that the school received last month.
The renown creative institute, which counts among its esteemed former students hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur and actress Jada Pinkett Smith, will launch the program at the start of the 2017 academic year in Sept-ember. Named in memory of entrepreneur, attorney and film buff Charles C. Baum, the program will also include a digital media component.
“The Baltimore School for the Arts is devoted to preparing more Baltimore City young people to take the lead in the future global workforce,” school director Chris Ford said in a news release. “With almost $300 billion in revenue, the film and TV industry will provide many meaningful careers in the time to come — we want our students to be prepared for that work.”
Supported by a grant from the Saul Zaentz Foundation, the BSA ran a successful pilot initiative for the film program this past summer.
“It seems like a natural fit for us because we [already] have these various art forms we teach at BSA — music, dance, theater and visual arts,” Ford said in an interview with the JT. “And we’re trying to move the school as a whole into more collaborative spaces. Film being such a collaborative art form, it seemed to be ideal for this part of our thinking here.”
Ford, who has been the director of the BSA for the past six years and otherwise involved for nearly four decades (initially beginning his tenure there as a part-time music instructor), said the school has been seriously considering a film program for more than two years.
In addition to the summer pilot program, Ford has been fervently engaged in researching the best ways to put together the upcoming visual storytelling class.
“One of the experiences that was local but valuable for me was going to the Annapolis Film Festival,” Ford said. “The most compelling piece for me was made by what appeared to be middle school kids in D.C. That kind of thing makes me realize how important the story element is and why it’s important too for students to be aware of what’s around them.”
Ford went on to say that a large component of one’s specialized education at BSA, where students are concentrating heavily on their particular artistic endeavors, is “discovering what [they] want to do with their lives. We realize not everyone will, but if someone here does, we want to facilitate that.”
In looking toward this self-discovery for BSA students, Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises feels the film program will be a valuable new asset at BSA.
“With a lot of the programs at the school, the pipeline really has to start at a young age,” Santelises said. “Film is something that is more accessible for young people who might have special gifts that are more latent in some ways but are still competitive.”
By this, Santelises is referring to the fact that whereas it’s typical for, say, a serious ballet dancer to start his or her education at an extremely young age — 4, 5, 6 years old, perhaps — film is something that generally isn’t taught until an equally gifted young artist is in his or her early teens due to the technology and collaborative components that require a certain maturity level.
“We’re tapping into talent without being so utterly dependent on early training,” Santelises said.
Santelises is equally excited about the notion that a film program at BSA will likely mean an opening of opportunities for such classes to be incorporated at other schools in the district.
“From a district perspective, this program is one that will clearly build out BSA’s already renowned reputation for excellence in the arts,” Santelises said.
“It’s a treat to be around such talented and bright kids who really are the future,” Ford said. “I realize that sounds hokey, but when you get to see those futures realized, it’s so rewarding.”
Auditions for the first class of students in the Charles C. Baum Film and Visual Storytelling Program will be held in February and are exclusively open to those students entering the ninth grade in the 2017-18 academic year. More information about applying is available at bsfa.org.