Second meeting of mayor's Safe Arts Space Task Force focuses on organizing, brainstorming

Mayor Pugh's Safe Arts Space Task Force meets for second time.

 Mayor Catherine Pugh’s Safe Arts Space Task Force established three workgroups Tuesday to focus on space needs of local artists, code and regulatory issues, and project development and finance.

The move came during a meeting at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s main building.

Before the groups broke off to discuss the assigned topics, the task force discussed issues surrounding safe and affordable housing for local artists.

The meeting, the task force’s second, picked up where the first meeting Jan. 9 left off, with co-chairs Jon Laria and Frank McNeil calling on attendees to voice thoughts on the mayor’s goal to create a network of safe, cost-effective spaces for artists to live, work and hold performances.

Aaron Maybin, a Baltimore artist and former NFL player, said the group  should reach out to activists and organizers already working in  communities affected by lack of affordable workspaces and housing. Residents have trouble trusting government-formed groups, Maybin said, when they don’t include figures with pre-existing relationships in these areas. 

“We need to make sure this is not just an internal act,” said Maybin, who is not a member of the Task Force. “You’re going to need people in the community to actually go find these [organizers].”

Dan Deacon, a musician and member of the Task Force, said he and other artists believe there are not enough workspaces and venues to hold performances and showings in the city. 

The purpose of the meeting was to reflect on the discussions of the first meeting, and to also begin discussions within the new workgroups, Laria said. They did not expect solutions, but rather ideas, he said.

“No idea is too small. No idea is too outrageous,” McNeil said. 

Laria suggested Task Force members research how other cities have tried to address similar issues for a better understanding of what works and what does not. The Task Force would later address the logistics and feasibility of the suggestions, he said. 

“Living in an ideal world, what would you provide for people in these categories? No judgment — just put it down,” Laria said. “Then we’ll figure it out, like, ‘Well, that’s desirable but practically impossible.’ There will be some of those. Hopefully there’s enough stuff in the middle that’s meaningful and doable.”

The Task Force has eight more meetings before it presents its suggestions to Pugh. They are scheduled to take place from 4-7 p.m. on Feb. 7, Feb. 16, March 7, March 21, April 4, April 18, May 2 and May 16. Locations are to be determined, Laria said.

The meeting on Feb. 16 will be a “public listening session,” Laria said, that will seek broad input from artists and the public.

On Dec. 21, Pugh announced the creation of the Task Force as a response to dozens of local artists being evicted the Bell Foundry building in Baltimore's Station North Arts District earlier that month.

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