Annapolis was aptly nicknamed the Athens of America way back in colonial times. The moniker is still fitting today for a vibrant, bustling capital city that’s so steeped in culture, creativity and a strong spirit of community.
If you’ve never visited the arts and entertainment district of Annapolis, you’re in for a treat. This dedicated district extends along West Street from Church Circle to Spa Road. Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts is the centerpiece, but the area also boasts avant-garde art galleries, eye-catching public art, several live music venues and a plethora of unique restaurants. The vibe is decidedly bohemian.
Leave plenty of time to take in these special attractions and happenings.
There are close to two dozen of them around Annapolis, so you’ll hardly starve for culture. Here are some popular spots in the arts district:
• Whitehall Gallery
Whitehall has operated for more than 25 years. Along with a wide range of works by local artists, it showcases antique photographs, maps, etchings and Mandarin Chinese ink paintings.
• Maryland Hall
Maryland Hall is not only a thriving performing arts center, but it features four distinct art galleries including the Hallway, the Martino, the Chaney and the Openshaw Balcony. You’ll see works ranging from traditional to contemporary in a variety of media, and you can even catch an art class taught by a resident.
ArtFarm is an ever-changing forum for creativity. A steady stream of assorted photographers, painters, performers and musicians wander in and out of the 1,400-square-foot space. You never know what the art event will be on any given day.
Annapolis is also a virtual open-air art gallery. The sides of brick buildings rarely go unadorned for long. Contact the Annapolis Art in Public Places Commission for a thorough guide to murals and sculptures throughout the city. Even private homes are on the tour.
In the arts district, there are stunning murals on the restaurants Tsunami and Light House Bistro.
Plans for a 65,000-square-foot performing arts center are underway, but there’s a lot to do in the meantime.
• Maryland Hall
The 800-seat auditorium is home to the ballet, opera, symphony and choral society. Annapolis’ civic leaders are strongly committed to the education and development of new talent; thousands of up-and-coming performance and visual artists of all ages study at Maryland Hall.
• Compass Rose Theater
The resident company stages plays, popular Broadway musicals, experimental readings and workshops of new plays. All are of the highest professional quality.
• Rams Head On Stage
Rams Head is a cavernous live music venue featuring five bars and three levels for viewing the stage. Just about all genres are represented.
• Stage One
Head to this outdoor venue for concerts and seasonal festivals.
If you like festivals and special events, you’ve come to the right place. Every year, Annapolis hosts an Irish festival, a rockfish tournament, a space-music festival, a crab feast and something called Art Between the Creeks. You get the idea.
Here are three noteworthy occasions to mark on your calendar. More Annapolis events can be found here.
• Annapolis Film Fest
The organizers are on a mission to establish the capital as an international mecca for innovative filmmakers. They encourage independent filmmakers to present diverse global perspectives that reach a wide range of audiences. There are parties, panel discussions and appearances by industry guests. It’s a heady atmosphere of introspection, creativity and excitement.
The Annapolis Film Fest features around 70 films over four days. This could become the next Sundance.
• First Sunday Arts Festival
First Sunday happened completely by mistake in 2001. Two coinciding art exhibitions on West Street drew unexpected crowds, so guests and artists spilled out onto the sidewalks. The idea of a monthly arts event was born.
Shortly thereafter, First Sunday became so popular that West Street was closed to car traffic on all first Sundays from May to October. Today, about 130 vendors show off their unique wares. December’s annual Chocolate Binge Festival was added to the calendar, praise be, in 2015.
• Dining Under the Stars
If you visit any time from June to mid-September, come hungry. The outdoor event known as Dining Under the Stars takes place every Wednesday evening in West Street from 6 to 10 p.m.
Enjoy exotic cuisine or local favorites prepared by participating chefs. Dining Under the Stars is a relaxed, romantic evening enhanced by music and dancing, locally made wines, craft beers and calming ocean breezes.
For everyday dining, there’s an eclectic assortment of restaurants, bars and coffeehouses. Many of them feature live music. Check out 49 West, BAROAK, Sailor Oyster Bar, Level, Carpaccio Tuscan Kitchen and El Toro Bravo.
Whether you’re an art maven, theater-goer, music fan or foodie, you’ll find lots to like about the Annapolis arts district.