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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 12, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 30
A Grand Opening for a Renewed Peabody

Peabody's new "main street" is the Grand Arcade, which evokes the feel of an urban street. It was created in what was an unused alley.

Nine-day music festival celebrates the magical makeover of institute's Mt. Vernon campus

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Two and a half years after the first shovel was lifted, Peabody officially unveils this week the end product of its just-completed $26.8 million makeover.

Peabody Institute Director Robert Sirota calls the renovations made to the campus both "dramatic" and "magical." He cites in particular the architects' ability to perform, in essence, a heart transplant to a campus that he says now circulates with life.

A major goal of the project, Sirota says, was to create a more welcoming, inviting Peabody.

Gone are the dumpsters, black iron gates, guardhouses and the gray labyrinth of halls that once impeded access into and through the one-block campus in Mount Vernon — making portions feel sealed off from the community. In their place are a restored entrance to Peabody on Mount Vernon Place, vibrant colors, a well-dressed Grand Arcade and new and reconfigured performance spaces.

Says Sirota: Let the renaissance begin.

"It is our goal to be one of the top three music schools in the country. We want to attract more talent to Peabody and expand our audience," Sirota says. "This new facility we hope will generate greater interest in the concerts and lectures held here. With these renovations, I feel we have arrived at the place where we could point to our facility and say there really isn't anything better."

To celebrate Peabody's grand reopening, the school will host the Music for the World Festival, a nine-day series of concerts by all of the school's major ensembles along with celebrated faculty and guest artists [see schedule here]. The highlight of the festival, which starts on Saturday, will be "A Grand Celebration Evening" on Saturday, April 24, featuring the Peabody Symphony Orchestra and renowned pianist and faculty member Leon Fleisher.

The Grand Arcade connects two historic buildings and houses the Peabody Box Office. Other new offices are located through the openings on the right.

The capstone of the construction project, designed by Washington-based Quinn Evans|Architects, is the new Grand Arcade that connects the Conservatory and the George Peabody Library buildings. The European-inspired glass-roofed thoroughfare, dubbed Peabody's new "main street," boasts a terrazzo floor and a cascading staircase with three gently graded flights that run north to south from the Mt. Vernon portico to the Peabody Mews. The space has both an elegant and organic feel, as iron stair rails twist and curve like vines and appear at two points to grow out of the side of the buildings.

The arcade's design preserved the brick exteriors of the two 19th-century buildings it connects to evoke the feel of an urban street. To that effect, light fixtures that resemble the tops of lampposts hang from trusses to provide a warm glow that blends with the natural light.

The arcade is located in what used to be an unused alley between the two historic buildings.

Carl Elefante, project manager for Quinn Evans|Architects, says that the concept for the space, which began life as a sketch on a napkin, was to create a vibrant streetscape that would serve as the center of the campus's new circulatory system.

"We wanted to increase the amount of visual energy, to make Peabody a more exciting place to be thematically," Elefante says. "We feel we have raised the bar and made this a more high-profile space."

The new Bank of America Mews Gallery, whose first exhibit will be 'Lift Every Voice — Portraits of African-American Musicians,' photographs by Russ Moss.

The arcade contains the Rouse Visitors Center, a box office for Peabody performances and an information booth that offers details on what is going on at Peabody and in the surrounding community. The space also houses a new elevator system to provide access from the parking garage to the library and performance spaces.

Peabody concert patrons arriving by car used to traverse a complex path to go from the adjacent garage to the performance hall. Those on foot were required to enter through the Peabody Mews, located off Washington Place opposite the Walters Art Museum, only to be greeted by a guard behind a locked gate. The new entrance for the public is 17 E. Mount Vernon Place, where there will be an information officer.

The Peabody Mews now acts as a secondary pedestrian access for students, faculty and staff. The plaza has been reconfigured and landscaped to allow access from Washington Place to Centre Street and from Centre Street to Mount Vernon Place.

Sirota says that renovation of the Peabody campus, which took three years to complete, was long overdue.

"We had 50 years of deferred maintenance that needed to be taken care of — improvements to plumbing, heating and HVAC systems," he says. "We also had a real big problem here with access to the facility for both those who work and study here and the general public. It became obvious that the buildings, distinguished as they were, were something of an impediment to a campus that felt open, welcoming and usable by the public."

Sirota says that the major challenge of the project was to make a rational flow of the traffic of students and visitors. The Grand Arcade and the pedestrian bridges that connect the historic buildings have solved the problem, he says.

The Centre Street entrance to the gallery and Grand Arcade.

In addition to improving campus circulation, the other major theme of the renovation was to enhance Peabody's music education and performance capacities.

Of note, the master plan called for the renovation of East Hall, which is now a dramatic soundproofed orchestra rehearsal space. The acoustically balanced room can accommodate a 100-piece orchestra and is wired to allow for professional-quality recording.

Other additions include eight small rehearsal rooms, a percussion suite, the Max Corzilius Jazz Studio and the 95-seat Cohen-Davison Family Theatre, which will become another venue for Peabody's public performances.

The renovation project also allowed the opportunity to make handicapped accessibility improvements and various mechanical and electrical improvements to the campus buildings.

Elefante says that creating additional performance and common spaces in such a densely populated area that could not be built out was a "huge challenge." The solution, he says, was to recycle, or reclaim, every available underused or dead space.

Peabody Conservatory Dean Wolfgang Justen says that the renovation project has already had a positive effect, pointing to the 1,279 application auditions held this February, an increase of 200 from 2003.

"In fact, the pool of applicants auditioning for enrollment at the Conservatory has increased by close to 20 percent over the last two years," Justen says. "As Peabody's reputation continues to grow with the new physical plant, the goal now is to continue increasing undergraduate enrollment to meet budget needs as Peabody moves forward, to increase graduate student enrollment and to recruit top faculty to attract the best students possible."

Peabody Director Robert Sirota on one of the benches added to the Centre Street side of campus. Behind him is the entrance to the new gallery and Grand Arcade.

Sirota says that now that the dust has settled and the public officially welcomed back, he admits that life at Peabody will likely never be the same again. And, he adds, he couldn't be more delighted.

"We now have a more gracious and uplifting campus. We are very pleased with the results," he says. "More than ever, this is a beautiful place to come to work, see Peabody performances and study. And, of course, visitors to the George Peabody Library will also celebrate this new space. It's much more alive now."

A special invitation: As part of the Peabody Institute's Grand Reopening Music for the World Festival, all JHU faculty and staff are invited to An Evening of Jazz with the Peabody Jazz Orchestra on Thursday, April 22, at the discounted rate of $8. (See this page for concert details.) A preconcert beer and wine reception begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Constellation Energy Pavilion. Enter the new Peabody campus at 17 E. Mount Vernon Place. R.S.V.P. by Thursday, April 15, to the Peabody Development Office at 410-659-8100, ext. 3040.


Examining Role of Arts in Urban Revitalization

East Hall can now accommodate a 100-piece orchestra.

In conjunction with the grand reopening of the Peabody Institute, the school will sponsor a symposium on "The Role of the Arts in Urban Revitalization."

The symposium seeks to foster Baltimore's continued successful revitalization and to consider what inspires significant levels of philanthropy that help build on a city's cultural, civic and economic foundation.

The invitation-only event, which will be held from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on Friday, April 23, in Peabody's Griswold Hall, will feature Johns Hopkins President William R. Brody, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who recently launched Creative Baltimore, a working group of public and private organizations charged with championing the city's "creative capital."

Adam Gordon, editor of The Next American City magazine, will moderate a panel discussion that will examine the expanding role of arts and entertainment in the economic and social development of cities, many of which have lost their industrial and business cores.

Among the panelists will be Robert Sirota, director of the Peabody Institute; M.J. Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp; and Tom Wilcox, president of the Baltimore Community Foundation.

The audience will consist of 200 cultural, political, business and civic leaders from the Greater Baltimore region.


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