A Year in Review by Alex Ebstein and Cara Ober
In 2008, Alex Ebstein and I wrote a New Years Day Roundup titled “Ten Best Reasons to be an Artist in Baltimore.” Five years later, it’s telling to see the way many of these changes have been realized, as well as the persistence of certain problems (art market? local collector base? creative jobs for people over 30? Hello??) still waiting to be solved. Looking at the original list, it’s plain to see that Alex and I were thrilled with a number of economic improvements for artists like free admittance to the BMA and Walters, The Baker Artist Awards, new venues like the Windup and The Strand, the re-opening of Gallery 4, the Artist & Craftsman Art Supply store, and the rumor of brand new live/work spaces for artists, now fully realized as the City Arts building which currently houses ninety artists.
This year, too, there is a sense that the Baltimore arts community has taken leaps and bounds forward and is a healthy and thriving ecosystem. There are a number of new programs and incentives for artists, affordable communities to live in, and lots of opportunities for growth. Especially after reading a series of articles about the connection between affordable spaces to live/work and health of arts communities and witnessing the impact of arts investment here in Baltimore, there are more and more reasons to be hopeful for the future. To celebrate, Alex and I created a new Top Ten List, celebrating a new era for creative living in Baltimore.
ONE: THE ROBERT W. DEUTSCH FOUNDATION. This year has been a grand slam for The Robert W. Deutsch Foundation and Baltimore artists. We love the Baker Memorial Fund, The Sondheim Prize, and the involvement of many other major arts funders in the area, but The Deutsch Foundation has stepped up their game in 2013 to become a significant player in funding all sorts of projects in Baltimore. In 2013, The Deutsch Foundation purchased buildings in Station North to renovate for artist communities, funded a number of artist fellowships, supported the inaugural round of The Rubys, and enabled several mini-exhibition spaces, like The Koban Project, to exist.
Many of the Deutsch Foundation’s projects have been in collaboration with other organizations, like The Baker Fund and The Surdna Foundation, and have enabled professional development organizations, like Artists U, to conduct free workshops for local artists. On a personal note, this organization has breathed new life into Bmoreart and enabled us to pay our contributing writers and editors for the first time, which has been nothing short of magical. Officially the Deutsch Foundation funds “creative thinkers and innovative projects” and their areas of special interest are “arts and culture, science and technology, media, education and social justice.” Chances are, if something awesome is happening in Baltimore, this foundation has played a part in it. Their investment in the arts in Baltimore is already reaping significant results. (Cara)
TWO: FRONT ROOM at BMA. After their epic renovation to the contemporary wing, the Baltimore Museum of Art opened its doors and re-launched the Front Room series. A relic from days of yore, (actually 2006 with Dan Steinhilber’s fantastic packing peanuts installation) this idea was dusted off and stacked with an outstanding, locally-focused lineup. 2014 includes art world heavy-hitters Sterling Ruby and Sara VanDerBeek, both of whom grew up in or around Baltimore, as well recognizing local artist Seth Adelsberger with his first museum exhibition. In addition to the front room exhibition space, the contemporary program will rotate in the black box with a number of video and multimedia works. Additional artists include Lorna Simpson, Camille Henrot and in 2015, an exhibition by Albanian artist Anri Sala, curated by the influential critic and historian Michael Fried. This is a very exciting time for contemporary art in Baltimore. (Alex)
THREE: BAKER ARTIST AWARDS. The Baker Artist awards have endured an unending seesaw of public skepticism and praise since they first emerged in 2008. This is due largely to the Baker’s shifting approach to user interaction, self-promotion, and the famously secret panel of jurors who determine the winners of the prize. While the Baker has moved away from the popularity contest aspect of the first year, a move which redeemed its credibility in the eyes of many, it was still handing out the secondary prizes, B grants, in inconsistent ways. Staggered releases of the $1000 awards, distributed with an unnerving evenness across the represented disciplines made the awards feel pandering and self-conscious. This year, however, the Baker has gotten it right. Between the decision to separate the B Grant exhibition from the top prize winners’ exhibition – the B Grant winners exhibit at the D Center and the Baker award has a slot in the BMA’s Front Room programming – and making fewer B Grants available for $5000 instead of the $1000 reestablishes the prestige and potential of the art award. We’re excited to see how it unfolds! (Alex)
FOUR: RE-LAUNCH OF THE CONTEMPORARY. Now that The Contemporary’s website is live and their curatorial advisory panel includes superstar curators Shamim M. Momin of the Whitney, Emily Blumenthal of The Metropolitan Museum, and Thom Collins, the director of the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, they’ve gotten press in every major publication possible. After all the hoopla, it’s great to see this organization roll up its sleeves and get started with an ambitious speaker series called Co-Hosts set to start on January 13. In early 2014, The Contemporary is bringing four internationally known artists – Coco Fusco, Nick Cave, Brendan Fowler, and Wayne White – to give a free lecture at the Baltimore School for the Arts and to interact with selected Baltimore artists. If you want to attend, the talk is free but you must RSVP. For this inaugural series, The Contemporary paired with four local art galleries to choose and host each of the four speakers, with Guest Spot, Pinebox, Nudashank, and Gallery CA as partners. According to The Contemporary, “Our work is inspired by three guiding principles: artists matter, collaboration is key, and audience is everywhere.” This is great news for everyone! (Cara)
FIVE: THE TOOL LIBRARY. Their slogan is “It’s just like a book library, but with tools!” The Tool Library is located on Oliver Street near Area 405 and their mission is to provide “affordable access to tools, skills, and workspace” and, ultimately, to create opportunities for empowerment. If you want to participate in tool sharing, workshops, and other events, all you need to do is become a member. They suggest a donation for annual membership and the suggestion is one dollar per every thousand you make a year. (If you make 30 g’s a year, they suggest you pay 30 bucks to be a member.) It’s totally worth it. There are hundreds of tools available and they offer workshops on screen-printing, using power tools safely, beer making, crafts for kids, and a number of awesome things. At the Tool Library, you can borrow up to 8 tools for one week at a time and it’s a great opportunity to get involved, step up your skills, make stuff, and make new friends. (Cara)
SIX: NEW GALLERIES = SPRINGSTEEN and ROCK512DEVIL. In 2013, we were thrilled to welcome a number of artist run spaces, many which were pop-ups with inconsistent schedules, two which were Springsteen and Rock512Devil. Each gallery has a dramatically different aesthetic and ethos, but each is dedicated to delivering challenging programming and contributing to Baltimore’s evolving art scene. Springsteen’s super-bright gallery showcasing crisp, bold works takes drastic measures to create a nearly identical experience for physical and virtual gallery visitors. This gallery could really be anywhere, but we’re glad its local. Rock512Devil, while still in its infancy, has mixed it up with a screening, reading and painting exhibition, while stocking a selection of artist-made books and goods. Basically, anything could happen here and we’re excited to see what they’ve got planned. (Alex)
SEVEN: THE RUBYS. The Sondheim Prize and the Baker Artist Awards are great, but those awards are judged according to talent, current art trends, and the quality of documentation images. Wouldn’t it be great if there were funding specifically for artists to realize their ideas and dreams? The Rubys are project-based and designed to realize excellent ideas, in order to enhance the entire Baltimore arts community. The awards are media specific for local performing, visual, media, and literary artists and will be up to $10,000 each. There will be up to ten Rubys awarded annually. I can think of nothing more motivating and exciting than the opportunity to realize one’s dreams and ambitions. All eyes will be glued to this new grant opportunity in Baltimore as the first round of grantees are awarded in 2014. Read Bmoreart’s article about how to apply here. (Cara)
EIGHT: PUBLIC DARKROOM at CURRENT. Ginevera Shay is a powerhouse. Ask anyone, they’ll tell ya. In 2013, she solidified a home for emerging photography in Baltimore though her work on both the Good Light photo series and the Public Darkroom, both located within Current Gallery on Howard Street. Transforming an infrequently used side-project space into a well-lit, white-walled exhibition space with invisible storage and a killer line-up, photography in Baltimore has seen a welcome resurgence and a resulting bump in quality. Although the Public Darkroom is not yet opened to the public, Shay’s efforts have brought attention and excitement to the photo community who will hopefully be developing and printing in Current’s basement in 2014! (Alex)
NINE: THREE A&E DISTRICTS! For artists who sell their work or produce performances, music, writing or designed goods for profit, the best news for you in 2013 (and forever) is the formation of a third Arts and Entertainment district in Baltimore this year. In addition to Station North and Highlandtown, the new Bromo Arts & Entertainment District now encompasses the Hippodrome / H&H / Bromo section of downtown. If you rent or own property in any of these districts for studio, gallery or arts-related space, you are exempt from paying Maryland income tax on your art-production income. Hooray! For some artists who’ve mastered the hustle, the money saved from this exemption actually equals out to a free studio! In addition to the taxes, each district has a board and a director who oversee and promote arts related programming, help to protect artists from rent hikes, and are generally there to hear the needs of the art community and act as our advocates. (Alex)
TEN: BALTIMORE DESIGN SCHOOL. If people want to complain about gentrification in Station North, that’s fine with me. Creating a brand new public school to explore the “convergence of art and technology” is part of the change we need in this public educationally- challenged city. This year the BDS opened a gorgeous, 110,000 square foot school in a renovated factory in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. In its first year, the school is serving 350 6-9th grade students, but will grow to be a public 6-12 school by 2016. The building features “state-of-the-art classrooms, studios, art galleries, media center, fabrication facilities, and computer labs.” But more importantly, the BDS values creative problem solving, visual and graphic communication, drawing, planning, building, and making things. According to the school, “We believe our graduates will be leading designers and architects of the future who see design as a way of thinking, problem-solving, and living a productive and rewarding life.” (Cara)
Happy New Year and Best Wishes for Everyone in 2014!