Arts  /  January 25, 2020

Core Story:​ The Crown’s new gallery chief will cast a wide net to capture all aspects of Baltimore art scene

Sarah For website.jpg

John Waters once attributed the character of Charm City’s art scene, (as well as its general zeitgeist) to his impression that "every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay." And he added, "No one moves here." Obviously, John never spent much time talking to Sarah Dunn. We interviewed the Alabama native to learn about her appointment as Gallery Director of the newly christened "Back Bar Gallery at the Crown," and found out that her relocation to Baltimore was not based on fuel failure. In fact, rather than planning on heading north, she made a conscious decision to come to Baltimore, (instead of New York) a couple of years ago. Nor did the adjective “eccentric” apply. If the beloved patron saint of Baltimore Arts had spoken to Sarah, we think he would have used descriptives like “frank,” “thoughtful,” and “intellectually curious.” Anyway, that was our impression.

Sarah's journey to Charm City can be traced back to her first job following graduation from college She was doing intake at an emergency room at Citizens Baptist Medical Center, not far from University of Montevallo (in Alabama) -- where she majored in photography and printmaking. The cross-section of people she encountered in the emergency room, and the type of issues they were dealing with, made her feel that she wanted to pursue something beyond the confines of mastering artistic disciplines, and pursuing arts for art sake. But Sarah didn't want to give up on art, either. Instead, she looked for some kind of art that would have a direct effect on other people’s lives. Architecture seemed like a just such a discipline. So, she packed up and headed for SCI-Arc in Los Angeles, to prep for a Masters in that field. Unfortunately, she found herself more interested in the people in the buildings she was studying, than the structures themselves. So, after completing the intro program, she changed directions, and turned toward the field of social design (also known as “social impact design”). The two good options for a master’s degree were SVA in the Big Apple, and MICA on The Core’s southern edge.

We wondered why Sarah (who wasn’t familiar with either place) chose Baltimore, over New York, especially given the not-exactly parallel coverage the two East Coast cities receive in national press. She told us that growing up in Alabama – whose scant coverage in the national press is often bizarre, or troubling, or both (think Roy Moore) -- inoculates one from the belief that a place can be fully understood via a few lurid headlines. Rather than being put off by the crash-and-burn Baltimore stories of recent years, she was curious about what else was going on here. That curiosity hasn’t faded.
After graduating from MICA a few months ago (with a MA in Social Design), Sarah decided to stay in Baltimore, paying the bills by bartending at The Crown. There -- within spitting distance of the gallery space on the first floor -- It wasn’t long before she started curating shows.

Manager Michael Young liked what he saw on the walls. As he made plans for 2020 year, he decided to kick it up a notch, and offered her the newly minted position of Gallery Director. The space is getting some fresh paint and there are plans for some new lights. It may not be the most expansive gallery space in The Core, but thanks to the diverse assortment of shows at the Crown, it’s probably one of the best trafficked. And Sarah’s got some ambitious plans for the upcoming year, that are based on her continuing desire to learn more about Baltimore, and her recent studies in social design. For those unfamiliar with the subject, (according to MICA) “social design “creates opportunities that shift relationships between people and people, and people and institutions, to support positive social change.”

So, in addition to putting up great stuff to look at, The Back Bar Gallery. Sarah is committed to focusing on a wide cross-section of Baltimore artists, and she’s consciously trying to get around the siloing that sometimes takes place in the artistic community here. So, you don’t have to have a fancy website, or go through difficult a submission process to apply for a show. Sarah will look at an Instagram page, or whatever you’ve got, to see if your work will fit with any upcoming exhibitions, and she’s reaching out to other curators who are tapped into different sides of Baltimore. If you have some work you would like to bring to her attention, you can contact her at

To see what’s happening at The Back Bar Gallery, visit The Crown. for Dispersion: An Art Opening, on January 17th. It will remain up on the walls through February 15th. This fabulous show features four different artists: Josh Brooks, June Nightjar, Smileytherager and Vinnie Hager.

Only in The Core, keep exploring!

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