What can a ceramics organization and its working artists do to improve the quality of city neighborhoods and the lives of its residents? Baltimore Clayworks has an audacious idea…move into those neighborhoods and be a part of the good and growing things there. Build satellite studios in partnership with community-based organizations, and otherwise simply set up shop.
When the artists’ collective that became Baltimore Clayworks began in 1980, it took over the old, empty Enoch Pratt Library in Mt. Washington. The long-time vacant building was architecturally attractive, but had no heating system, its plumbing was a mess, and the electricity didn’t work. It was a city building in search of a caring “developer,” but the community wanted and needed more. It wanted stability, rehabilitation, continuous activity, commerce, and the lights on late at night. In other words, it needed artists.
In 2000, the community, seeing a convent vacant for two years and located across the street from Clayworks, wanted more of the same thing, and Clayworks expanded.
Three years later, with a burgeoning Community Arts program and ceramic artists working all over the city with children and elders in a host of makeshift sites from community centers to school basements, the community asked Clayworks to create a stable place again—and this time away from the Mt. Washington campus. Locate, it said, in a neighborhood that has little or no access to studios and artists and artmaking for its residents. Again, Clayworks took a discarded space—the former Bell Atlantic store in the Mondawmin Mall—and created its first studio satellite—Baltimore Clayworks Mondawmin.
Three years and 900 “enrollments” later, the space was redeveloped enough for Target Companies to build a big retail store on our footprint, so our satellite relocated. This time, to a building in the heart of another challenged neighborhood—Pimlico. The Pimlico Road Arts and Community Association had taken the community’s needs to heart, and built a new building out of which organizations could operate programs to benefit a neighborhood in distress. Clayworks Pimlico Road was born and is alive and well in that location. Word gets around.
New Holistic Ministries, the founders of Martha’s Place and six other sites in the Sandtown/Winchester neighborhood has extended a covenant relationship to Baltimore Clayworks. We’ll work together to locate Clayworks Jubilee—with Newborn—and at their invitation, and with listening to them and responding with them to their community’s real needs.
Supporting ceramic artists of national and international reputation is Clayworks’ mission; connecting those artists with the broad and diverse communities of Baltimore gives us our best operating model. It may be an audacious idea—take the program and its artists to the people—but it is really very simple. Listen to the community; become an asset; extend good work; be authentic; stay a long time; build a studio; contribute some artists and some experience. Do what you know how to do—teach/show/live/work/be clay.