Off-Off-Off Broadway

After moving back to Baltimore, Alec MacGillis was impressed by its dirt-cheap, high-quality cultural offerings:

What gives? Call it the Rust Belt theory of low-cost high culture. Baltimore is one of a handful of cities where the economic might and urban scale of a bygone era (Baltimore was the sixth-largest city in the country as recently as 1960) created both premier cultural institutions and a foundation of local wealth—aka old money—that, however dissipated by time, lingers to this day and continues to provide support for the institutions. At the same time, however, these cities’ decline in population and prominence has left these institutions perpetually on the hunt for new patrons.

The result is a disequilibrium that represents a kind of golden middle: On the one hand, these cities have a richer cultural legacy than younger but more economically ascendant cities such as Phoenix and Charlotte; meanwhile, their offerings are far more affordable than those in creative-class capitals such as New York and Boston, where theaters and concert halls can fill seats with deep-pocketed local elites and high-spending tourists.