Pugh announces a Safe Arts Space task force, includes artists, developers, more

City Paper

This morning at Station North venue the Windup Space, Mayor Catherine Pugh stood in front of members of city agencies, artists and artist groups, lawyers, developers, and funders, as media and other members of the arts scene looked on, and announced a Safe Arts Space Task Force.

Pugh cited the Bell Foundry eviction where artists "worked and lived" and also Oakland's Ghost Ship fire as a reason for forming the task force, whose purpose "is to create a citywide network of safe, cost-effective, contemporary, live/work, studio, and performance spaces to emerging artists." Pugh added that safety is "non-negotiable" but expressed an interest in a solution that would help artists and give them more options for affordable housing and studio space.

The first meeting of the task force is set for some time in January, and Pugh believes there will be a more clear plan in four or five months. What it will do exactly is still unclear, however—she said it is "not a defined task force."

The presence of some involved in the arts scene and part of the DIY scene is encouraging. Those include: musician Dan Deacon, Executive Director of Maryland Volunteer Lawyer for the Arts and artist Adam Holofcener, Area 405 co-owner Stewart Watson, The Contemporary's Deputy Director Lu Zhang, and musician and cofounder the Red Room John Berndt.

No one from the Bell Foundry is included on the task force, though residents including Qué Pequeño, Person Abide, and Aran Keating of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, whose studio was on the first floor of the Bell Foundry, attended the press conference. 

Pequeño, who had been organizing shows at the Bell Foundry, said no one from the Bell Foundry was asked to be part of the task force, adding that he only heard about this morning's press conference from friends who sent him a tweet last night announcing its time and location.

"I don't think they were even expecting us to show up," Pequeño said.

Members of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society were not asked to be part of the task force either.

Also included on the task force are Frank Lucas and Amy Bonitz, both connected to the Motor House, whose establishment in Station North is a sore spot for the DIY community. Before the North Avenue building was the Motor House, it was Load Of Fun, a studio space and arts space that housed, among other things, Single Carrot Theatre from 2005 to 2013. Load Of Fun closed in 2013 after an anonymous 311 complaint led the city to come and inspect the building and declare that it wasn't in compliance with "use and occupancy" zoning.

That same year, the building was purchased by the Baltimore Arts and Realty Corporation (BARCO), which is funded by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. Back in 2014, Sherwin Mark, who owned the building when it went by Load Of Fun, said this to City Paper about the 2013 sale of the building: "For whatever nefarious reason, Load of Fun was destroyed by the City while so many much more non-compliant buildings in the city continue to be supported and publicized by the very organizations that took advantage of Load of Fun and its artists."

After the Bell Foundry was condemned following a complaint earlier this month, many in the scene immediately connected it to Load Of Fun's situation and, in general, a 2013 scare in which a number DIY spaces were raided by Baltimore police—a crackdown that the arts scene is still reeling from.

When Elissa Blount Moorhead, the executive director of Station North Arts and Entertainment District, spoke at the press conference this morning, she seemed to address the skepticism of the arts scene. She mentioned varying definitions of the word "safety" and noted that what DIY spaces offer up is "sanctuary" for artists, and that's often just as important, if not more important, than physical safety in a building with code violations (the Bell Foundry was operating as an anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic safe space).

Moorhead also invoked "spatial justice" and her hope that "placemaking" wouldn't turn into "placetaking." She also expanded the concerns, noting that "artists are not a special class" but "part of a wider class" of people who are not provided "safe and affordable housing" in Baltimore, reflecting what Bell Foundry resident Person Abide said in the days following the eviction.

There is a benefit show for the Bell Foundry tonight at the Crown.

The Baltimore Rock Opera Society has started an ambitious Crowdrise campaign so that BROS can acquire "a permanent home for the BROS community and for BROS performances."

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