Empire Salon

(1981-1982)

SECOND STORY BOOKS owner Allan Stypek came to Baltimore in 1981 hoping to open a bookstore/cafe along the lines of KRAMERBOOKS in Washington, DC (this was long before the 1990s arrival of coffee culture). Once here, he was convinced by a number of people, including Baltimore poet/performance artist Kirby Malone, to transform the cafe space into a multi-purpose art space with a small bar on the lower level. This occurred at a moment in Baltimore history when there were almost no alternative performance spaces available (The Theater Project, which celebrates its 25th birthday in 1996, was under renovation at this time), and so the space bloomed with activity. EMPIRE SALON co-directers Richard Ellsberry and Kirby Malone ran the gallery and performance space, Warren Wigatow, Steve Hargrove, and Joe Potts ran the bookstore itself, and Harry Robinson ran the Empire Lounge, a bar sometimes known as "The Elbow Room" because of its small size. The food manager? Poet Tom Diventi of the late 70s punk band "Da Moronics".

Tom Diventi
Zero Gravity
October 13 - November 5, 1981
Empire Salon, Baltimore
Photo: D.S. Bakker
Sindee Heidel
Use Me
October 13 - November 5, 1981
Empire Salon, Baltimore
Photo: D.S. Bakker

The space took its name from Andre's Empire Salon, the beauty shop formerly at the 527 N. Charles Street location, and appropriately the downstairs cutting booths were given to local artists as installation spaces for the Salon Grand Opening held on Tuesday, October 13, 1981. Among the installations were Sindee Heidel's "Use Me," Laurie Stepp's "Dreamboat," and Tom Diventi's "Zero Gravity." Murals were painted by Manette Letter. Over the course of the next twelve months, numerous artshows were exhibited in the gallery including notable shows by Stephen Parlato, Bill Moriarty (also of "Da Moronics fame), and Vince Perranio (who designed sets for John Waters' films).

Kirby Malone
Apparatus: Character Assassinations
Wednesday, October 28, 1981
Empire Salon, Baltimore
Photo: D.S. Bakker

The Salon became the location of performances organized by DESIRE Productions and BALTI-MEDIA plus poetry readings sponsored by the Maryland Writer's Council.

Susan Mumford
of D.C.'s "Tiny Desk Unit"
Performance: An Arab in Paris
Wednesday, November 11, 1981
Empire Salon, Baltimore
Photo: D.S. Bakker

Unfortunately, this youthful outpouring of aesthetic energy was not to last long. Over-extended financially and with growing staff/owner conflicts, the EMPIRE SALON collapsed in the Fall of 1982. The Baltimore arts community shifted its focus elsewhere including the AD HOC FIASCO, the SOWEBOHEMIAN FESTIVAL, Maryland Art Place (MAP), ARTSCAPE and in 1989, the highly successful and still active (as of 1996) performance space, the 14 KARAT Caberat, located in the basement of MAP.

See other links under MUSEUM OF THE FUTURE for further details on EMPIRE SALON activities.


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