The Washington Project for the Arts orchestrated a whirlwind tour of 36 Baltimore artist studios in just 36 hours with renowned art collector Mera Rubell this past weekend and there is no denying that she is in love! I had the opportunity to tag along on nine of these very personal studio visits to take photos and listen in on the conversation. I heard her exclaim, “Amazing! Unbelievable!” during or after every studio visit. Rubell was enthralled with the quality of artists, the sense of community and collaboration between artists, the affordable workspaces available and the genuine creativity being fostered here in Baltimore.
The series of studio visits were an opportunity for Rubell to get a taste of the vital Baltimore Arts Scene while also acting as curator for the WPA’s annual art auction. Despite an intense schedule, the energy and excitement in each and every studio was palpable. Rubell and a small entourage of arts professionals and press entered into each studio with eager smiles, welcoming handshakes and rapidfire questions. The work was strong. The artists were intelligent and talented. The conversations were extremely engaging.
Mera Rubell’s questions began before the hellos were even finished: “Where are you from? Is the sunlight important to your work? What is your material? What is your process? How do you choose your colors? When did art enter your life? Whose work influences yours? How do you feel about a big crowd of people in your studio?”
She truly connected with each artist, looking for ways to allow them to speak most personally about their work. She had a genuine interest in each artist’s journey as well as their body of work. And, if Rubell had a personal aesthetic, she didn’t let it be known. She found one or more works in each studio to engage with on a more formal level, making comments about how she interpreted the piece or why a certain piece appealed to her.
Rubell didn’t come in as a critic but as an energetic supporter instead. She wasn’t visiting the studios to purchase, so there was no disappointment or rejection as she left, just hugs and enthusiasm for the creative spirit she had just met. The five-minute time warning called towards the end of each studio visit by Lisa Gold, WPA’s Director, was met with sighs and a longing for more. Occasionally, the energetic conversation just couldn’t be contained and the 36 hours grew to 37 or even 38.
I joined the tour at 9:05 am on Saturday morning at the live/work studio of Caitlin Cunningham. Rubell had already been to six studios beginning at 6:00 am. I continued on to Alex Ebstein, Laure Drogoul, Timothy Horjus, Felipe Goncalves, Jennifer Coster, Lisa Moren and Stewart Watson’s studios. I departed in the afternoon but the group continued until well after 9:00 pm. I rejoined them on Sunday for their visit with Cara Ober—the next to last stop on the whirlwind tour!
As both artist (and editor of Bmoreart) Ober asked Rubell several questions that turned the discussion away from her own work and onto the Baltimore art scene as a whole. Mera Rubell replied with her profession of love for the City of Baltimore in the best quote of the whole two days:
“I had a hunch that Baltimore was special but after these 34+ hours it is very clear that Baltimore is the most dynamic city that I have come to in America—at this moment in time—and you know, we travel everywhere. It’s so cool because it’s so unpretentious.”
The studio visits were followed by a reception for all 150 artists who applied for studio visits at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, recently acquired by the Rubells, where Mera and the other members of the entourage including Lisa Gold, Fred Ognibene, Rose Carter, Amy Raehse, Deana Haggag and Jane Dearing had the chance to meet even more artists and discuss the bright future of the arts in Baltimore.
** Photos from artist studios and after party below, by Joan Cox. To see more Rubell studio visit photos by Joan Cox, read the post on Bmoreart here.