You may not know Sona Johnston. But if you’ve been to the Baltimore Museum of Art in the last three decades, you probably know her taste in paintings and sculpture. On staff at the BMA since 1970 and a curator since 1976, Johnston has overseen countless exhibits, written three books and outlasted four museum directors. She’s curating the major fall exhibit, “Antioch: The Lost Ancient City.”
role: Senior curator of painting and sculpture.
credits: Exhibitions on such artists as Honoré Daumier, Winslow Homer, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Benjamin West. Most recently, she curated the blockbuster survey exhibition “Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from American Collections,” one of the top-five highest attended exhibitions in the museum’s history.
coming attractions: “‘Antioch: The Lost Ancient City’ [Sept. 16 through Dec. 30, 2001]. Robert Garrett, one of the museum’s major benefactors, helped finance a team from Princeton University in the 1930s on an archeological dig in Antioch. The findings were divided among the Syrian government, the Louvre, Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts and the BMA. This show, put together by the curators at Worcester, is the first time our mosaics will be reunited with the others. We’re going to suggest the ambience of Antioch through fountains, columns and stone-colored beams to give visitors the feeling of being in the different rooms. We’ll also have some wonderful jewelry, helmets and sculpture on display. Antioch was a diverse and vibrant place, and modern cities are not that different. I hope people see that things haven’t changed that much from 2,000 years ago.”
motivation: “I love going into the conservation room and looking closely— really closely— at works of art. Then it’s about deciding with the conservators how far we should go. How much of the original painting should we take away? And then, how much should we put back?”
favorite painter: “That changes almost every day. When you work in this field, you kind of love the one you’re with.”
if not a curator, what would you be doing? “I was a painter as an undergrad, and well, I still might become one.”
Baltimore Museum of Art, 410-396-7100, http://www.artbma.org
When Audrey Herman passed away in December 1999 after heading up Spotlighters for 42 years, no one was sure what would happen to the Mount Vernon community theater. Then local theater veteran Bob Russell and business partner Jonathan Claiborne stepped in. “Somebody had to take up the reins,” says Russell. “No one wanted to let this theater die.” As the new creative visionary, Russell picks the plays and the directors, and perhaps most difficult, tries to “get warm, paying bodies into the seats.”
role: Artistic director and producer.
credits: “I’ve been acting and directing since high school— almost 45 years. A small dabble in politics for about 10 years distracted me from theater, although some say it is the same skill that makes one successful at both.”
coming attractions: “The season is so eclectic. This fall, I’m directing ‘Fools,’ a little-known play by Neil Simon about a Ukrainian town where everybody is plagued by stupidity. It’s hysterical. ‘The Killing of Sister George’ is about a radio soap opera star whose character is being killed off and she takes it personally. ‘Ebenezer’ is a new musical version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by local playwright PS Lorio. It’s perfect for kids. We’ve also got an irreverent look at Christmas with ‘The Eight: Reindeer Monologues.’ It’s basically the eight reindeer talking about their relationships with Santa.” (“Fools,” Sept. 14 through Oct. 20; “The Killing of Sister George,” Oct. 26 through Nov. 24; “Ebenezer” and “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues,” both Nov. 30 through Dec. 22.)
favorite play: “Michael Frayn’s ‘Noises Off.’ I just think it’s the perfect play, one of the funniest ever written.”
biggest miscue: “I was playing a guy in jail in ‘Hello Out There.’ I was lying on a cot inside my jail cell when the curtain opened and banged into the set, opening the jail cell door. I ended up walking outside the door and closing it myself. The audience thought it was hilarious; of course, we were doing a very serious drama.”
key to a successful show: “Casting. The best people direct themselves.”
how i know the show is going well: “First, the cast is up and having fun and laughing backstage and inviting their best friends to come and see the show. Second is audience build. When opening night has little audience and the show builds from there, you know you have a winner.”
changes at spotlighters: “For years we did 12 plays a year, now we’re doing eight. But we’ve added a summer Sunday night improv series and we’re going to have auditions in September for a resident theater company. We’re also toying with the idea of doing a weekly serial called ‘Charm City,’ based on a small struggling theater in a basement in Baltimore. It’ll be a late-night serial— definitely a little edgy.”
life without audrey: “She made the theater what it was for many years. We need to move on and try our best to emulate her kindness and vision in giving newcomers to theater a shot at being ‘on the boards.’ That is what community theater is about, and that’s the tradition we want to continue.”
Spotlighters Theater, 410-752-1225, http://www.spotlighterstheater.org
Thanks to Pam Wilson and the Maryland Federation of Art, Mount Vernon has a new art gallery. After running its very successful Circle Gallery in Annapolis since 1968, the MFA decided to bring its act to the big city and open City Gallery at 330 N. Charles St. last June. A nonprofit with 300 artist members, MFA showcases Maryland artists and cultivates the creative spirit via artist-led workshops for kids and people with disabilities. As the MFA’s sole full-time employee, Wilson does everything from helping select artworks for shows to emptying the trash cans at the end of the day.
role: Executive director.
credits: Five years working with the MFA and more than 20 years experience as a disability rights activist.
coming attractions: “‘Works by Anne Bradshaw and Susan Wortheimer David,’ [Nov. 25 through Jan. 19.] Watercolorist Anne Bradshaw does amazing, nontraditional works. Her use of color in her landscapes and vignettes of everyday life ranges from opaque to literally translucent. She has a skillful command of form, design and composition that’s more akin to architectural drawing than the expected watercolor process. And potter Susan Wortheimer David does extraordinary raku works— unlike any I’ve seen before. She uses an unusual glazing process that creates a unique finish. Her work ranges from large vessels to small containers, some with bamboo trim. It should be a beautiful show.”
motivation: “The juice in the job for me is working with the artists. I love meeting somebody who maybe is just starting out or is new to town and talking to them about their artwork and how we might help them. They get excited, I get excited, and before you know it we have all these ideas going back and forth. Eventually it solidifies into what turns out almost every time to be a beautiful exhibition.”
local gallery i admire: “Walter Gomez Gallery. Walter understands all the nuances. He changes the wall color to go with the artwork, and his lighting is superb. He’s a curator in addition to a gallery owner.”
casting calls: “I look for enthusiasm and energy and the passion in an artist’s work, and you can usually pick that up immediately if it’s strong. The next Picasso is painting right now. And where can you see his work? In a local gallery.”
City Gallery, 410-685-0300.
Miryam Yardumian has music in her blood. The third of 13 children of American composer Richard Yardumian, she grew up listening to the Philadelphia Orchestra and its legendary conductor, Eugene Ormandy. “I had no idea it was unusual as a kid,” she says. “I thought everybody attended symphony each week.” Since 1989, Yardumian has produced the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s classical music season and Summer MusicFest concerts. “I have to know the instrumentation to literally 10,000 pieces of music. When Maestro says he’d like to do this piece or that piece, I ask him, ‘Do you want the solo to be played by an orchestra member, or should we bring in somebody from outside?’” Then she checks artist availability, negotiates the contracts, makes travel plans, entertains them while they’re in town, gets them to the performance on time and makes sure they get paid. And you thought the people on stage were under pressure.
role: Music administrator.
credits: Administrative posts with symphonies in Minnesota, New Orleans, Cape Cod and Philadelphia. A children’s book she wrote at age 5, “The Happy Man and His Dumptruck,” was published in five languages as a Little Golden Book. (“These days I’m just happy writing contracts,” she says.)
coming attractions: “‘Symphony with a Twist.’ It’s a four-concert series, and each one is completely different. We’ll try to interest and excite people about classical music in a different way. The first one, ‘Opera Bytes’ [Oct. 20], is sort of a tour of opera’s greatest hits. There’s a wonderful soprano, Jessica Jones, and the conductor, Yakov Kreizberg, is fantastic. [The Sun’s] Dan Rodricks is going to be the host. There will be a martini bar and live jazz in the lobby. The orchestra won’t be in tails. It’ll be a much more relaxed and comfortable way to enjoy good music.”
artist to watch: “The pianist Lang Lang. He’s a once-in-a-century talent. He made his U.S. debut with the BSO in 1998 and performed at Carnegie Hall with Yuri Temirkanov and the BSO last spring to rave reviews. He’ll be here for our Summer MusicFest next year.”
favorite artist to work with: “There are just so many great artists. This season alone, there’s Emanual Ax, a real character with a wonderful sense of humor. Nathan Carter from the Morgan State Choir is fantastic. Janice Chandler, a wonderful soprano who lives in Baltimore, has one of the most beautiful voices I’ve heard. André Watts has very strong ideas of what he wants to do with the music and he conveys it in a very confident, wonderful way. He’s also a very nice person.”
favorite composer: “I have many. A young composer who is wonderful is Kevin Putz. There’s also Christopher Rouse from Baltimore. I think he’s going to emerge as a great American composer.”
worst (almost) mishap: “One time we were doing a live radio broadcast of Mahler’s ‘Symphony No. 8’ and the first soprano got sick. I called a replacement in New York who left at 4:30 for the 8:15 concert. She arrived at 8:20. It was pretty hairy. The disc jockey was ad-libbing and David Zinman had to go over her part while she was getting dressed. But you know what? The concert was phenomenal— one of the best performances ever.”
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, 410-783-8000, http://www.baltimoresymphony.org.