Event Pick: An Open Mic for Crankies at the Creative Alliance

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Katherine Fahey performs at this year’s Crankie Fest at the Creative Alliance. Still via video from Creative Alliance.

In a class of its own, the crankie melds visual art and music in simplistic fashion, propelled by a simple crank similar to the one on a jack-in-the-box. It’s weird and magical, and unsurprisingly it has a niche following in Baltimore.

At tonight’s “Open Crank!” at the Creative Alliance, Baltimore crankie makers will show off their musical panorama boxes in an open mic-style show. The Southeast Baltimore performance space hosts its own much larger Crankie Festival every year; the fifth annual one actually happened just three weeks ago

“We’ve been hosting the Baltimore Crankie Festival for five years, and every year we get more and more requests from people who want to show their work at the festival,” said Josh Kohn, performance director at the Creative Alliance.

The art form is uniquely popular in Baltimore, he said. “More and more, we’re finding visual artists and musicians are using it as a way to graphically illustrate a story.”

Crankies use crank-powered rollers to display a moving visual narrative, and performers often add strings to the machines or accompany them by speaking or singing. To give you an idea, here’s Baltimore print and music maker Matt Muirhead showing off one of his creations dubbed “Day of the Squibber.”

Muirhead and at least a half-dozen other crankie performers are expected to turn out for tonight’s event. The free event will be held in the Marquee Lounge, and drinks will be for sale. (Those who want to stick around can also catch jazz troupe Mwenso & The Shakes down the hall.)

“We want artists, musicians and people from the general public to have a place to show their work, because there aren’t many places out there,” Kohn said.

“Open Crank!” is free and runs from 7-10 p.m. tonight at the Creative Alliance.

Ethan McLeod
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