Coach “G”, director of counseling and the Lethal Ladies of Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women.  Photograph by Mike Johnson II, AIA, IIDA, LEED ID+C

What happens when you combine a story telling session about building successes from failures and a Baltimore all girls’ high-school STEP team, set against a beautifully restored theatre originally built in 1915? Inspiration, excitement, honesty, determination and creativity are just a few words I would use to describe this year’s IIDA Mid Atlantic Chapter (MAC) Breaking Boundaries event, but ‘magical’ describes it best.

For years, the IIDA MAC Breaking Boundaries event has revolved around breaking down the perceived boundaries between life, design, art and everyday experiences. Last year, the format of the event was reimagined to strengthen its commitment to the Baltimore community and partnered with Stoop Stories, a Baltimore-based company that develops live shows to feature ordinary people telling the extraordinary, true tales of their lives. This made the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway, the perfect location for such an event. The masterfully renovated movie, performance theater and new home of the Maryland Film Festival, is located at 5 West North Avenue in the up and coming Baltimore neighborhood, Station North.  You can’t help but to notice the perfect imperfections of the elegant interior ornamental plaster, oval shaped ceilings, chandeliers and exposed brick which reflect the Italian renaissance architectural style.   The rich character of the space played as a unique backdrop for Breaking Boundaries.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway movie/performance theater and new home of the Maryland Film Festival. Photographs by Mike Johnson II, AIA, IIDA, LEED ID+C

This year’s theme, “Failing Up – Building Successes from our Secret Frustrations and Failures”, brought together five unique story tellers from diverse backgrounds to share their experiences with us.  The story tellers included Sarah Fraser, popular radio/TV personality and host of the Hey Frase Podcast, but more importantly, the IIDA MAC Premiere emcee for the last two years, Theresa Sheils, AIA, LEED AP, studio director and principal at Gensler, Gari McIntyre or as most people call her, Coach “G”, director of counseling and the strength behind the STEP ensemble Lethal Ladies of Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, Nick Kovacic, film maker and owner of Digital Cave, an innovative filmmaking creative media house, and Wil Holman, a self-proclaimed “Master Builder” and Executive Director at Open Works, a community-facing makerspace in central Baltimore.

With each failure came a success.  Sarah struggled with body image which forced her to look for ways to “validate what is real and authentic”. Theresa showed us that even when “yelling matches” happen you can build trust with clients and peers, which helped her to become recognized as the “Fixer” within her company. Nick battled with story cohesiveness as he directed the documentary “Brewmore”, which won the 2014 New York Food Filmmaker of the Year.  Before Gari became Coach “G”, she worked in sales at Nordstrom and she questioned “Is this going to be my life?” and eventually realized that her purpose was to “invest myself into someone else”.  This pulled her in the direction as a director of counseling and coach for the Lethal Ladies, who performed after intermission.

Speaker, Wil Holman, Executive Director at Open Works describing his success through failure. Photograph by Mike Johnson II, AIA, IIDA, LEED ID+C

Wikipedia defines STEP as “a form of percussive dance in which the entire body is used as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken word, and hand claps”, but for these young women it was so much more than that.  They used STEP as a means to escape less than ideal home situations while overcoming their own doubts and fears of achieving success on and off the stage.  The young women stole the show that night and their hard work and determination has become the focus of a powerful, award winning documentary film, STEP, which shows how they became empowered by their teachers, teammates, counselors, coaches and families, as they chase their dreams which encompasses what Breaking Boundaries is all about.

The Lethal Ladies of Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women performing. Photograph by Mike Johnson II, AIA, IIDA, LEED ID+C

These stories and performances showed us that failure is acceptable so long as you learn from it and keep moving in the right direction; therefore, IIDA MAC was thrilled to have the opportunity to donate $5,000 to the Lethal Ladies, so that they have the opportunity to compete in a STEP competition this March. To support this incredible group of young women, please mail your donation to:

Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women LLOB Step Team
128 W. Franklin Street, Baltimore, MD 21201
or call (443) 642-2048


**The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the IIDA Mid Atlantic Chapter.**