We are thrilled to partner with the Center Club in hosting the “What’s Next for the Arts in Baltimore?” panel. Our moderator, Susan Magsamen, and the four panelists, Carter Polakoff, Theresa Sotto, Jenenne Whitfield, and Stephanie Ybarra, are all dynamic women who bring different experiences and perspectives to the arts in Baltimore. In this post, we introduce you to them, and even if you can’t attend the panel, we hope that you will read more about their work and organizations.

Register to attend the “What’s Next for the Arts in Baltimore?” event at the Center Club in Baltimore on Wednesday, October 12, 2022, 5 – 7 pm.

Susan Magsamen, panel moderator

Susan Magsamen

As the Founder and Executive Director of the Arts + Mind Lab in the Brain Science Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Susan’s work in neuroaesthetics is influenced by years of experience developing educational craft kits for children (we all remember Curiosity Kits!), from studying how play time affects the brain, and in writing books for families about the arts and storytelling. Her pioneering work in neuroaesthetics studies the intersection of brain science and the arts – how our response to the arts can amplify human potential. 

She also serves as co-director of the Neuro Arts Blueprint initiative in partnership with the Aspen Institute.

She’ll be asking the questions at the panel discussion, but we turned the tables on her and asked her a question: how she thought Covid affected the arts community and if there is a silver lining to what we experienced and learned from the pandemic.

She replied, “Covid shined a light on the tremendous need in our community, but also the opportunities where the arts can help us repair, heal and thrive. The NeuroArts Blueprint is finishing its first full year to make the arts in health and public health part of the mainstream. I am excited about the momentum of the field. As part of this, my book Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us is coming out in March.  The “What’s Next for the Arts in Baltimore?” panel represents the future of the arts for social and community health.  I am thrilled to be facilitating this important discussion in Baltimore because this city is about authenticity and self-expression, non-judgment and creative problem solving.“

Carter Arnot Polakoff

Carter Arnot Polakoff

What goes round, comes round, in a good way. Carter Polakoff started her career at Port Discovery Children’s Museum, and after 20 years gaining experience in non-profit management at The Baltimore School for the Arts, and developing connections in the arts community, she returned to Port Discovery as its Executive Director in 2020.

Carter is excited to be part of our panel “What’s Next for the Arts in Baltimore?” She is particularly looking forward to extending a special welcome to Jennene Whitfield! She says, “What a treat to be one of the first to meet her as she settles into her new role at AVAM. Does that mean I am no longer the new kid on the block? And while I have not gotten to work with Susan Magsamen yet, Port Discovery has a long history with Susan, so I am very excited to be with her that night.  Susan understands more than most our relevance in the community and recognizes the science behind play and the immediate and long-term impact of play as a positive outcome for children and families.”

And Carter looks forward to encouraging more visitors to Baltimore’s cultural attractions. She says, “People crave community, connection and spending time together – and cultural attractions are such a big part of providing those spaces and experiences for people. We’re seeing that play out – despite what you might here, visitors are indeed coming into the City, and we’ve seen attendance rebound to pre-pandemic levels. There’s a LOT of positive happening in our City – but there’s no question that improvements are needed so that all of our cultural centers, theater, and restaurants are all full again.”   

Theresa Sotto

Theresa Sotto

Theresa Sotto is the Ruth R. Marder Director of Learning & Community Engagement at the Walters Art Museum. A Baltimore native, she returned to the city in October, 2021, after seven years at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. In her new position, she will develop new models of museum education, bringing programs to students and teachers in Pre-K to 12, and to families and the public. She will also work on implementing the museum’s DEAI (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion) goals. Theresa is the co-editor of a forthcoming book, From Small Wins to Sweeping Change: Working Together to Foster Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism in Museums, published by the American Alliance of Museums and Rowman and Littlefield.

Stephanie Ybarra

Stephanie Ybarra

Stephanie Ybarra is the Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage. She began her tenure in 2018, but with the Covid closures, she is currently producing only her 3rd season at the theater. Live theater was especially hard hit by the pandemic closures and has been slow to return to live audiences, but she developed innovative ways to bring performances to the Center Stage audience during the shutdown.

Stephanie is committed to producing plays that showcase the deep talent of Baltimoreans, such as playwright R. Eric Thomas and actress Anna Deavere Smith, and to subject matter that does not shy away from reality.

She co-founded the Artists’ Anti-Racism Coalition, a “grassroots effort to help the off-Broadway community dismantle systems of exclusion and oppression.” Her deep core values of equity and inclusion reinforce her determination to bring content to Center Stage that definitely starts a conversation.

Jenenne Whitfield

Jenenne Whitefield

Our newest Baltimorean on the Panel! In September, Jenenne Whitfield took over as the second Director of the American Visionary Art Museum, after the position was held for 30+ years by founder and director Rebecca Hoffberger. She comes to us from her previous position as President & CEO of the Detroit-based outdoor artistic organization, The Heidelberg Project.

The AVAM is a “Congressionally-designated national museum and education center dedicated to showcasing intuitive, self-taught artistry and thought. AVAM champions the role intuition plays in creative invention and evolutionary innovation of all sorts — be it in the field of art, science, health/wellbeing, engineering, humor or philosophy, and especially in inspiring compassionate and creative acts of social justice and betterment.” It is an institution that has captured the unique personality, character and quirkiness of Baltimore, with exhibits that showcase everything from humor in art to social justice and betterment.

We look forward to having her settle in and become a presence in our city. She is ready for it and says, “Baltimore and I are having a love affair right now as it totally lives up to its name “Charm City.” It’s going to make my role at AVAM even more interesting and exciting.”

And a big thank you to artist and entrepreneur, Jennifer Nolley of Tiny Easel:

Jennifer Nolley

Jennifer Nolley

We want to give a special shout out to Jen Nolley, owner of Tiny Easel, for creating the artwork for “What’s Next for the Arts in Baltimore?” We wanted a happy, upbeat rendering of the skyline of our unique, colorful, wonderful city and she did a perfect job.

As a mother of three, with a masters in interior design, she looked for art supplies and art activities for her kids. Her experience with gathering supplies and trying to create good projects to keep her childrens’ attention led her to develop Tiny Easel projects. Her boxed art kits provide all the tools, supplies and instructions for creating a work of art. Visit her website for more information and to buy.


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