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Personal chef service PlateDate launching in Baltimore

A personal chef service is launching in Greater Baltimore in January, promising customers five-star dining in their own home.

PlateDate currently serves Howard County and Washington, D.C. Myranda Stephens, PlateDate's communications manager, says the company is still identifying which areas of Greater Baltimore it will serve, but it will likely include a stretch from Annapolis to Bel Air, as well as Baltimore City. 

Based in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood, the company employs two and relies on about 20 contract workers. It also has office space in D.C. incubator 1776. Stephens says the company will offer cooking classes and wine pairings in the future.

Riffing on the idea of a kids' playdate, PlateDate facilitates a grown-up get-together. "It's not catering or delivery," she says. "We send a chef to prepare and serve a meal." Chefs bring all ingredients and items necessary for cooking the meal with them and clean up after themselves as well.
 
Potential diners can browse from 25 different menu options online or can opt for a custom-made meal. Each PlateDate is priced per person, starting at $39 for brunch and capping at around $125 for dinner, depending on the options selected. 
 
"You’re getting a personal chef at your house," Stephens states. "A three-course meal— five-star dining—in your own home."
 
PlateDate also wants to "keep it local" whenever possible. The company is committed to promoting locally grown produce; a company partner's family owns a farm in King and Queen County, Va. "Two of the biggest crops from [the] farm are sweet potatoes and kale, which we've incorporated in several of our menu items," Stephens explains. She also says that the farm-to-table aspect of PlateDate's operation has several investors "strongly interested" in the company.
 
Currently, PlateDate has more than a dozen personal chefs on board. "It's a fun concept and it offers a lot of flexibility," Stephens explains. "Some [chefs] do have other full-time jobs. [PlateDate] is a fun way to pick up extra cash and…to do what they love to do in a different way. "
 
PlateDates are available Thursdays through Sundays for brunch and dinner. Stephens says the company would like to offer PlateDates seven days a week, and that expansion will come as the company's network of personal chefs grows. 
 
"We're always looking for talented chefs," she explains. "Having a system of chefs increases availability [for the consumer], so you're not at the mercy of a single calendar."

Writer: Allyson Jacob
Source: Myranda Stephens, PlateDate
 


Charm City Fringe Festival seeking artists for expanded event

The Charm City Fringe Festival will encompass more venues and showcase more  performances when it returns in November.

This year, the festival will expand from a weekend festival to a five-day event mainly in the Station North Arts and Entertainment neighborhood. The festival will hold its main productions at the Theatre Project in Mount Vernon and at Single Carrot Theatre, says Co-founder Zachary Michel. He says he expects to attract between 1,000 and 1,500 attendees to the paid performances, and additional guests for the opening and closing parties.
 
The Fringe Festival’s goal is to highlight performance art in a range of genres, from plays to dance and burlesque. The Fringe Festival is different from other Maryland festivals because of its unique purpose to promote the “fringe,” or works that are not mainstream or well known. Michel says the festival was able to expand this year because it added three volunteers who are in charge of production and marketing.
 
Also new this year is the system that Michel and co-founder Michael Brush are using to find acts. Instead of booking performances, artists can now apply online at charmcityfringe.com by June 15.
 
Participants in Charm City Fringe Festival will have access to a performance space as well as promotion and marketing via the festival for just an application and production fee.
 
The festival aims to foster a community of theater performers, from up-and-coming companies to smaller groups, looking for the opportunity to reach a broader audience. Michel says that he hopes by bringing a diverse audience of established performance artists as well as young artists, the festival will allow new performers to network and establish valuable connections.
 
“We’re expanding our reach, we’re expanding the amount of artists that we’re taking in, we’re trying to bring more people in and overall just build up the scope,” Michel says.
 
Those interested in attending the festival can purchase tickets online as well as at the box office.

“I think that [attendees] are going to find that there’s just a lot that they didn’t know was going on and really discovering a new side of Baltimore so to speak,” Michel says. “To new art, to new people, to new rumblings that are going on that are going to be emerging in the next couple years.”

Writer: Daryl Hale
Source: Zachary Michel, Charm City Fringe Festival 

Ignite Awarding Grants to Make Baltimore Better

Ignite Baltimore is seeking applicants for two Ignition Grants, to be awarded for projects that aim to make Baltimore City a better place to live and work. Past winners have included a video tour of the city’s parks and trails and interviews with the city’s homeless population.
 
Applications for the grants of up to $2,250 each are due by midnight on Sept. 30. A committee picks the winners. Now in its fifth year, the awards are sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Technology Council. Previously, the Baltimore Community Foundation sponsored the awards. This year, the sponsor is the Greater Baltimore Technology Council.
 
Kate Bladow, coordinator of the Ignition Grants, says the grants are intended to encourage people who have ideas that address the social and economic challenges of the city. The award-winners speak at the Ignite Baltimore event, which also helps to publicize their ideas.
 
In the past, a grant went to a woman who formed a company in which low-income, stay-at-home mothers made reusable bags for produce that were sold at local farmers’ markets. Another grant-winner taught a video-making course to children at the Walbrook branch of the Enoch Pratt Library and encouraged them to make videos of their neighborhood. A third winner was the developer of a website to showcase Baltimore’s dance community.
 
The winners will be announced at the Ignite Baltimore event, to be held this year on Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. at the Brown Center of the Maryland Institute College of Art on Mount Royal Avenue. Last year, 1,300 people attended the sold-out event. Tickets to the event cost $5 each, and the proceeds are used to fund the Ignition Grants.
 
Source: Kate Bladow, Ignite Baltimore’s Ignition Grants
Writer: Barbara Pash

State Hears Proposals For $113.5 M Consumer Energy Fund

The Maryland Public Service Commission will hear proposals Aug. 7 on where to spend the $113.5 million fund created to benefit Baltimore Gas and Electric customers following its parent company's sale to a Chicago energy company.

By the June 15 deadline, 19 organizations had submitted 100 proposals, among them Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., as well as nonprofit organizations like Baltimore Electric Vehicle Initiative, Fuel Fund of Maryland and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

The proposals for the Customer Investment Fund include energy efficiency projects and support for low-income residents. Maryland's Public Service Commission approved Constellation Energy Group Inc.'s $7.9 billion sale to Exelon Corp. on the condition that it pass on some of the cost savings to customers.

PSC spokeswoman Regina Davis said in an e-mail reply to inquiries about the hearing that it doesn't offer comment on the record for matters that are before the PSC. Davis also says that the PSC has not given a deadline for its final decision. 
 
Fuel Fund Executive Director Mary Ellen Vanni calls the PSC initiative “unprecedented.” Says Vanni, “This is the first time within Maryland that the PSC has put out a request on how to spend settlement money.” The Fuel Fund has requested almost $20 million for low-income aid.
 
However, there are several unknowns regarding the PSC hearing. Vanni says the organizations that submitted proposals have not been told if the hearing will go on for more than one day or if the PSC has a timetable to make a decision. Vanni says she does not expect a PSC decision before December 2012, given the number of proposals submitted.
 
The PSC has not indicated how the money will be allocated, she says. “The PSC can do whatever they want,” says Vanni. “They can decide to give all the money to one or two organizations or divide it among several groups. They can also say to us [the Fuel Fund], ‘You asked for $20 million and we’ll give you $10 million.’”

Paula Carmody, People's Counsel of the Maryland Office of People's Counsel, agrees with Vanni. The PSC set up the fund, asked for proposals from the community "and they can do what they like." She expects the PSC to pick a certain nimber of proposals that they like, then ask that further work be done on them to "firm them up." The Office of People's Counsel has requested $36.3 million for multiple programs, including establishing a model for greater rate affordability for low-income customers that can be used throughout the state.
 
Aleeza Oshry, manager of the sustainability initiative of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, says that most of the proposals are intended to enhance and/or expand existing programs. 
 
That is the case with the two separate proposals Associated submitted. One proposal is from Associated itself for $2.7 million to extend its existing Green Loans Fund Program to northwest Baltimore nonprofits for interest-free financing for energy upgrades. The second is from CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc., an Associated agency, for $2 million for its existing residential weatherization program in northwest Baltimore.
 
“We are the only faith-based organization that has submitted proposals” to the PSC, Oshry says.
 
Other organizations that submitted proposals, some for multiple-year funding, include:
Abundant Power Solutions, $5 million;
American Council for An Energy-Efficient Economy, $111 million, multi-programs;
Baltimore City, $55 million for its Green & Healthy Housing Initiative;
Baltimore Community Lending;
Baltimore County, $20 million to $50 million, multi-programs;
BGE, $54.7 million, multi-programs including small businesses and schools;
Baltimore Electric Vehicle Initiative, $10 million for an e-vehicle workforce;
Community Assistance Network, $1.7 million;
Energy Associates;
Green Renewable Earth Energy Corp;
Maryland Alliance for Fair Competiion;
Maryland Clean Energy Center, $5 million, seniors and veterans;
Maryland Energy Administration/State of Maryland, $113.5 million, multi-programs;
National Housing Trust; and
Public Technology Institute, $3.8 million, nonprofits and counties.
 
 
Sources: Regina Davis, Maryland Public Service Commission; Aleeza Oshry, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore; Mary Ellen Vanni, Fuel Fund of Maryland, Paula Carmody, Maryland Office of People's Counsel

Writer: Barbara Pash
 
 

Maryland AG Office, MedChi Launch Insurance Watch

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office and MedChi, the state medical society, are partnering in a program that protects consumers from insurance company abuses. Launched last month, Insurance Watch enables physicians in the state to file complaints online on behalf of their patients.

The Attorney General’s Health Education and Advocacy Unit  has long accepted written claims filed by physicians when an insurance company refuses to cover a patient’s medical care and other insurance payment issues.

MedChi asked to be involved when a survey found that physicians were not filing the paper forms. “We wanted to make it easy for physicians,” MedChi CEO Gene Ransom says.

Physicians can opt to have the complaint sent to the Attorney General’s Office only or to MedChi as well. If they choose the latter, MedChi will monitor the complaint, which often goes to mediation.

According to David Paulson, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, more than 2,000 complaints were filed in 2011, resulting in over $1 million in claims and recovery on behalf of patients.

With the new, online system, Paulson expects the number of filed complaints to increase. “The doctors are pleased” with Insurance Watch, he says. “It’s a smart way to communicate with them, and for them to communicate with their patients.”

Che Parker, spokesman for Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic, says the health insurer has no objections to the program.

“Doctors and patients are free to use established processes and procedures to surface concerns to insurance regulators and other venues established for that purpose,” he says. “We trust those concerns will be appropriately resolved in those venues.”

Sources: Gene Ransom, MedChi; David Paulson, Maryland Attorney General’s Office; Che Parker, Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic
Writer: Barbara Pash
 
 

Incite Creative Adds New Clients, Staff

Incite Creative Inc. has added new clients, expanded services and hired new staff as the company celebrates 12 years in business this year.


“We are reaching back out to those [clients] that are less active to evaluate what was done, what needs to be revisited or enhanced," says Dina Wasmer, president of Incite Creative. "We're also continuing to provide mentoring services to a variety of organizations and support entrepreneurs."

Incite Creative recently formed a new relationship with Baltimore artist Stephanie Levine and her company, PaintPrints by Stephanie. The organization's branding, logo design, marketing materials, social media and public relations are being handled by Incite Creative. Stephanie Levine was recently honored for her work as an artist and a person with disabilities at the Hadassah Medical Center’s 6th annual CELL-A-BRATE event.

Incite has also expanded in two areas. Incite is now offering extended services in social media management and search engine optimization. Incite has added services in both areas to more accurately measure the effectiveness and consistency of clients' search engine rankings and social media outreach.

“Many companies and organizations are latching onto social media as a marketing tool but find that after they create their pages, they can't keep up with the posts," Wasmer says. "Consistency is king along with acquiring and engaging a following in order to establish and maintain a thought leadership positioning."

Incite Creative recently added three staff members, and is currently hiring freelance graphic designers and copywriters.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Dina Wasmer, Incite Creative Inc.

MICA, Hopkins, Launch Joint Degree

Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School and Maryland Institute College of Art are teaming up to offer a joint MBA/MA in Design Leadership next fall.

Billed as the first program of its kind in the US, the program will marry traditional business courses with those in art and design to train leaders in architecture, architecture, the fine arts and other creative fields.

The partnership anticipates enrolling students of diverse educational backgrounds including grads in business management, fine arts, finance and design. The new program will be an 18 to 20-month, 66-credit program of study.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Sources: MICA and Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore Celebrates 9 New Electric Vehicle Chargers

Baltimore now has 9 new chargers available for drivers of electric vehicles. Mayor Stephanie
Rawlings- Blake, Department of General Services Director Theodore “Ted” Atwood, Parking
Authority of Baltimore City Executive Director Peter Little, and John Murach of Baltimore Gas
and Electric were on hand at the dedication celebration for the new chargers. The Mayor
also took a spin in a new Chevy Volt, which is being considered as a fleet vehicle by the
Department of General Services.

The 9 new car chargers are located at city owned garages around downtown Baltimore.
Electric vehicle chargers have been installed at the Arena Garage, the Baltimore Street
Garage, the Caroline Street Garage, the Lexington Street Garage, the Little Italy Garage, the
Penn Station Garage, the Redwood Street Garage, the Water Street Garage, and the West
Street Garage.

The celebration ceremony for the 9 new chargers is a part of the city's efforts to reduce
energy consumption. During the month of October, which has been designated “Energy
Awareness Month,” Baltimore City officials have also held energy awareness and green
initiatives seminars. Baltimore's city government is also holding a City Employee Energy
Challenge, pitting different city departments against one another in a competition to
reduce energy use. According to the Department of General Services, the Baltimore City
government is on target to meet its goal of a 20% reduction in energy use by 2015.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Department of General Services, Baltimore City

The Walters Art Museum nabs $315K to digitize its medieval manuscript collection

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has granted the Walters Art Museum $315,000 for a 2 1/2 year project to digitize, catalog and distribute 105 illuminated medieval manuscripts. Representing diverse Byzantine, Greek, Armenian, Ethiopian, Dutch, English and Central European cultures, this project, entitled Parchment to Pixel: Creating a Digital Resource of Medieval Manuscripts, will allow for the digitization of approximately 38,000 pages of ancient text and 3,500 pages of illumination.

"The aim of this project is to allow access to the museum's collections, free of charge, mirroring in the virtual world what the Walters has achieved at our physical location through free admission," says Walters Director Gary Vikan. "This project further fulfills the museum's mission to bring art and people together."

The resulting digital catalog and library of images will conform to internationally accepted standards and will be distributed to diverse audiences through scholarly and public databases worldwide under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

"This unparalleled access to little-seen treasures will enable close collaborative study of the materials from locations around the world and across disciplines as well as reduce wear and tear on the codices," says Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books Will Noel. "The NEH has provided another extraordinary opportunity for the Walters to share its resources."

This grant allows the museum to continue its ambitious initiative to create, preserve and make accessible fully cataloged digital surrogates of its manuscripts, an initiative that began in 2008 with an NEH Preservation and Access Grant to digitize its Islamic manuscripts. The museum is digitizing the entire collection of Islamic manuscripts and single pages, which amounts to approximately 53,000 images to be available for public access.

In the western hemisphere, the Walters' holdings of illuminated manuscripts are second in number only to the Morgan Library and Museum and are of a level of quality matched only by the Morgan and a smaller collection at the J. Paul Getty Museum. At the time of his death in 1931, the museum's founder, Henry Walters, left to the city of Baltimore his entire collection of art, including a legendary collection of illuminated medieval manuscripts that is a major national treasure. Between 1895 and 1931, Walters collected around 730 codices. Today, the collection includes some 850 illuminated and illustrated manuscripts and 150 single leaves, ranging in date from the ninth to the 19th century and constituting one of the most significant collections of its kind in the country.


Source: The Walters Art Museum
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Baltimore's vital signs looking good says report

A new statistical analysis of Baltimore shows that the city has made important improvements in areas central to the city's improvement, including crime, housing, and education prior to the recession. Other social conditions, such as the number of teen births and the number of children with elevated levels of blood lead, have also improved according to the latest "Vital Signs" report by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France Institute. However, the report shows that while there have been significant improvements in a variety of economic and social indicators in Baltimore, not all neighborhoods within the city have benefited equally.

Available on the BNIA-JFI's new website, analyzes data from nearly 80 indicators provided at the Community Statistical Area level. CSAs, created by the Baltimore City Department of Planning, are clusters of neighborhoods organized around Census Tract boundaries, which are consistent statistical boundaries. Neighborhood borders don't always fall neatly into CSAs, but CSAs represent conditions occurring within the particular neighborhoods that comprise a CSA.

"This latest edition of 'Vital Signs' will help us access how our neighborhoods are doing and what we can do to help improve outcomes," says Janice Hamilton Outtz, senior associate for Civic Site and Initiatives at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. "I am excited about the new report."

The 8th edition of "Vital Signs reveals the following important trends currently impacting the city:

  • The city's population declined by 3 percent, from 651,154 in 2000, to 631,815 in 2008. While a handful of neighborhoods lost population, several more, including downtown (22 percent), Loch Raven (8.4 percent) and Northwood (9.9 percent), experienced a growth in population.
  • Median sales prices for homes in the city increased by well over 100 percent in the past eight years, although the pace of that increase has slowed considerably since the start of the recession.
  • Both adult and juvenile crime has decreased in Baltimore City. In particular, Baltimore City's Part 1 crime rate has declined from 106.0 incidents per 1,000 people in 2000 to 78.3 incidents per 1,000 per people in 2008.
  • The number of residential properties receiving rehabilitation investment is climbing, and may be continuing as the recession lingers and more homeowners choose to stay in their current home.
  • Baltimore's high school completion rate is on the rise, while its rate of truancy in elementary, middle school and high school (including students who drop out of high school) is in decline.
  • The teen birth rate dropped from 83.3 teens out of 1,000 in 2000 to 66.1 teens per 1,000 in 2008—a decline of 17.2 percent.

Other measurements, such as the larger number of Baltimore residents visiting local emergency rooms for non-emergency diagnoses and treatment, expose a city that continues to be constrained by larger trends such as rising health care costs and a lack of adequate medical insurance.

"While Baltimore City has made significant improvements in areas such as crime and education, we appear to be hampered by many of the same things that have struck other urban areas in this recession," says Matthew Kachura, program manager for BNIA-JFI at UB. "But we also are seeing some resilience, such as the increase in home prices, median household income, and an impressive number of small businesses based in well-established city neighborhoods like Edmonson Village and Greenmount East, and by the growing number of city residents who claim at least some higher education in their backgrounds."

BNIA-JFI began in 1998 as a partnership between the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers. In 2006, BNIA joined with the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute in an expansion of its capabilities. BNIA-JFI has strengthened the "Vital Signs" report and provided additional services and resources for those who seek data, information, and analysis about the city.

BNIA-JFI's latest product is a new Web site, www.bniajfi.org, which provides a wide variety of data, maps, and information for the City of Baltimore and its neighborhoods. Anyone interested in how Baltimore measures up can find easy-to-use statistical analyses, maps, reports and links relevant to the city.

This information is reflected in the latest "Vital Signs" report. For example, Edmonson Village reports the city's highest percentage of successful small businesses (69.2 percent), while a total of 50.9 percent of all city residents reported some type of college attendance as of 2008.

"These trends of educational attainment, lower crime and rising housing prices may not lead to a total revitalization for the city," Kachura said, "but show that many neighborhoods are improving and these improvements paint both a better and a realistic picture of Baltimore. The larger question is whether these trends can be maintained and translated into long-term improvements for Baltimore and its neighborhoods. For the most part, though, they are good news for the city."

Source: Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore
Writer: Walaika Haskins


Artscape, Book Festival have more than $30M impact on city

Baltimore's biggest festivals brought in major loot in 2009. Artscape, America's largest free, arts celebration and the Baltimore Book Festival, an annual celebration of the literary arts, had a combined economic impact of $30.48 million on Baltimore City, according to a study by Forward Analytics, a Pennsylvania based market research firm

Artscape, which takes place annually the third weekend in July, attracted an estimated 350,000 residents and visitors and had a total economic impact of $25.97 million with $7.02 million in direct impact and $18.95 million in indirect impact. Direct spending by out-of-the area festival-goers generated $350,950 in sales tax revenues for the State of Maryland.

More than 35,000 attendees traveled to Maryland for Artscape and 163,800 came from beyond the Baltimore Metropolitan area. Hotels in the area raked in $257,699, while the city picked up $20,677 in tax revenues. Festival-goers spent $9 million with Artscape vendors of which $3.5 million was spent on art from the exhibitors and $4.3 million on food and beverages.

The Baltimore Book Festival had an economic impact of $4.51 million, of which $1.22 million had a direct impact while $3.29 million was indirect impact. Book vendors earned $651,908 in sales; food and beverage vendors made $620,252; and other retailers gained $42,880 in revenue.

Baltimore Book Festival attendees spent $134,177 at area hotels and generated an estimated $10,108 in tax revenues for Baltimore City.

In 2010, the 29th annual Artscape festival takes place July 16, 17 & 18 in the Mount Royal Avenue and North Charles Street area of Baltimore City. The 15th annual Baltimore Book Festival takes place September 24, 25 & 26 at Mount Vernon Place located in the 600-700 blocks of North Charles Street.

Source: Baltimore City Office ofPromotions and the Arts
Writer: Walaika Haskins


U of B IT geeks put state's budget in citizens' hands with new online videogame

Undergraduates in the University of Baltimore's Simulation and Digital Entertainment programhave come up with a novel way to help state legislators and the governor balance the budget -- educating the public.

The students have designed a Web-based videogame that will help ordinary citizens learn how Maryland's budget works—including the all-important and legally-required task of balancing it—as part of a public education effort by the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute.

The "Maryland Budget Game" was unveiled by the institute on Monday, Jan. 18 and is be available online and at no cost to the user.

According to the institute, "Maryland Budget Game" players assume the role of the governor in making decisions to balance the state budget. Players travel to different locations to view budget options related to different policy areas: the schoolhouse for education, a clinic for health and so on. Based on the player's decisions, the state's near-term and long-term budget status improves or deteriorates. At the same time, 10 different simulated interest groups react to the players' every decision.

"Our students developed this project with the classic learning-game goal in mind: to provide an experience that replicates much of what goes in the real world, and do it so that it stays with the player in tangible ways," said Stuart Moulthrop, professor and director of the Simulation and Digital Entertainment program in UB's School of Information Arts and Technologies.

Source: University of Baltimore, School of Information Arts and Technologies
Writer: Walaika Haskins

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