Jacques Kelly is known for his reporting on "Retro Baltimore," as his Tumblr has it. So, when we were both at the fire at the historic Mayfair Theater a couple weeks ago, he offered an interesting perspective on the history of the nearby buildings. But he was blind to the arts that were surrounding him—that very week the Transmodern festival was happening all around the Mayfair; there are new galleries on Franklin Street; the H&H Building; and the Baltimore Theater Cooperative, which recently made a deal to purchase three buildings on the 400 block of Howard St.
This metaphorical blindness becomes a problem when Kelly is assigned, by some editor's ill-conceived design, to cover contemporary arts. His most recent column called "Motor House to offer space for artists in Station North" is so clueless about the recent past that it is not only embarrassing but serves to falsify the public record and erase history. Kelly reports on the new developments at 120 N. Avenue, which, as we reported in 2013, was bought by the Baltimore Arts and Realty Corporation (BARCO). Kelly adds almost nothing to that reporting (without acknowledging it; BARCO's plans have not changed much since we reported on the sale), while also missing that BARCO is funded by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. But he does add that the building will now be called the Motor House, which will house . . . artist studios, just like it did when it was owned by Sherwin Mark and called Load of Fun between 2005 and 2013.
Such omissions wouldn't be so bad if this were Kelly's personal blog. But the Sun is the paper of record and Kelly's shoddy journalism has consequences. If a future researcher comes across Kelly's piece, she would imagine that the building went from serving an automotive function in the distant past to artists' studios in 2014, overpassing Load of Fun and the Lombard Office Furniture from where it got its name, noting that it was "one of many in Station North that have languished undisturbed for decades."
But this kind of lazy work not only falsifies the historical record; it actually harms the arts district. As we reported in 2012 when Load of Fun was first shut down after a mysterious 311 call in the middle of the night, the closure fueled a great deal of paranoia in the arts community. Because it looked like the beginning of a pattern: Let the artists work on a building, as Mark did when he bought Load Of Fun in 2005, and bring in artists. And then, when the building becomes an anchor for other businesses that raise the price of real estate in the area, the city suddenly notices the code violations it has previously ignored, the artists are kicked out, and the building is sold to rich people such as the Deutsch Foundation.
Kelly's reporting fuels such speculation, erasing the work of dozens of artists and the huge investments Mark put into the building, making it seem as if BARCO rescued an old car dealership from decrepitude rather than took over a previously functioning and—to use the city's favorite word—"vibrant" arts space. Nothing happening in the "Motor House" would be possible without what happened in the "Load of Fun."
In 2012, Kelly;confessed to repeating "sentences and entire passages" from old columns verbatim (generally called "self-plagiarism") and said that he has "regretted not getting out of the office more, seeing the Baltimore I love." He vowed to "make it my job to show how that reassuring, and sometimes idealized, past has a role in shaping current events and a future for Baltimore."
We wish he would not only look at the reassuring and idealized past, but also the more recent past when he is trying to report on the present and discuss "a future for Baltimore." If he is incapable of discovering this past, his editors should direct him towards City Paper. We're right upstairs.