Artsmash Critic Tim Smith covers classical music, theater and visual arts in Baltimore and beyond

Creative havens: 3 off-the-beaten-path hubs for artists in Baltimore

Baltimore is brimming with creativity — murals and art installations, Station North Arts District and the Maryland Institute College of Art. But some creative havens fly under the radar. Here are three you probably haven’t heard of.

Creative Labs

Make your way to Creative Labs in Woodberry, and you’re met with a larger-than-life mural featuring various green-colored people, holding signs displaying phrases like “Nasty Woman” and “It Takes the DMV Village.” The outside screams inclusion and diversity, and the inside — roughly 40,000 square feet — is just as dynamic. Filled with murals, odd-shaped studios, artwork and scraps, Creative Labs is an ever-growing smorgasbord of the arts.

The idea for the 3-year-old multipurpose arts incubator grew out of co-founder Richard Best’s hope to build an art park under a bridge in Baltimore through his nonprofit, Section 1. Instead, Best and artist Michael Metcalf developed Creative Labs.

“DIY spaces are what cultivate the culture of a city,” Best said. “We have anchor institutions that provide education, but once [artists] leave and are in the real world, they don’t get a lot of feedback. They don’t get the critique that they need. … Individually we’re on our own.”

Best’s hope was to share knowledge and resources under one roof with other artists and arts organizations.

The first floor includes a stage and venue space for music production and performances. In the basement, there are at least 25 artist studios for rent, each uniquely decorated and sized; there’s a podcast studio, a woodworking shop, and a cyclorama photography wall where people shoot fashion and music videos.

Creative Labs also hosts a series of weekly events, including producer and mixed media meetups; nights for fire spinning, jugglers, hula hoopers and other movement artists; and Wellness Wednesdays.

The arts hub has an emphasis on “harm reduction” in the arts with programming for arts and festival organizers on safety, personal defense and first aid training, and aims to address issues like consent and drug use. The programming comes in response to a 2016 fire at an arts space in Oakland, Calif., that killed 36 people and safety violations that closed Baltimore’s Bell Foundry.

But there’s still work to be done. Best and Metcalf said there are plans to open 14 studios in a next-door space — a food hub that will be used specifically for food production and preparation.

Members can access Creative Labs 24 hours, 7 days a week. 1786 B Union Ave. Memberships range from $30 to $90. Studios are available from $200 to $500. Visit createbmore.com or facebook.com/CreativeLabsBmore for more information.

The Fray Baltimore

Vocalist Diamon Fisher, 22; Mo, who goes by a single name; and the co-founders of Dovecote Cafe have come together to open The Fray in Reservoir Hill, a creative hub for black people and artists in Baltimore, in hopes of encouraging and formulating a Baltimore Renaissance.

The business, housed in a rowhouse apartment, which opened up in July, features a variety of rooms, including a library-conference room, a creative room complete with paint and backdrops to use, a community altar for offerings and energy-related objects like sage and crystal, a multipurpose lounge, a kitchen and a 70s-inspired room for jam sessions. There are “goddess gatherings,” holistic events, sip-and-paint nights, and celebrations like the “Sunday Deliverance,” which commemorates freedom and kinfolk with DJs, henna and tattoo artists, and vendors monthly during the summer, according to Fisher.

The co-working and collaborative space is mostly fueled by people and the community, Fisher said.

“Some days, we have an entire jam session and people are on the balcony jamming. Other days, we have a lot of visual artists,” said Fisher, adding that The Fray also does $5 drop-in days for people to use the space. A membership will be developed in the coming months. “Other days, we'll have chefs in residence, where people will be lounging around. … It's definitely from a day-to-day basis.”

“It's not just for artists. It's for black folk in the community and all across the city of Baltimore,” she said.

10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Closed Friday through Sunday for special events. 2524 Brookfield Ave., 2nd floor. $5 for drop-ins. Visit Instagram at @thefraybaltimore for more information.

Orion at Fillmore

What started as an open mic night in the living room of indie-soul-rock artist Black Assets, born Ashley Yates, 25, has evolved into an art haven in the Waverly area. Recently named Orion at Fillmore, but owned by Yates’ business partner and artist Bo Johnson for years, the former garage is now a warm and welcoming host to Living Room Social, an open mic night hosted every first Friday of the month, as well as film sets, and private events, including music competitions.

“It’s just really a space for creativity, and I have to emphasize comfortable creativity,” Yates said. “It’s something kind of out of the world when you see it.”

While the outside is unassuming, a corner building with black doors, the inside looks like a lavish living room, complete with deep mahogany woods and black tones, plush couches and chairs, a loft lounge, a cozy indoor swing, the smell of burning incense and various Afro-centric art and memorabilia, including paintings, sculptures and a large King Tut-inspired mummy tomb. A dance floor doubles as a stage, for performers, complete with a baby grand piano and a sound system.

“Our platform keeps that essence of love, of community … of live instrumentation and beauty,” Yates said.

The space also hosts themed nights that include yoga, chess, and movies; and will eventually add a series of brunches to its private event roundup, but Yates and Johnson have made it clear that Orion at Fillmore will not be used for just anything or anyone. It’ll keep its exclusive vibe.

“It’s kind of just one of the hidden gems,” Yates said.

The Living Room Social is typically held at 7 p.m. on the first Friday of every month. 1101 Fillmore St. $10-$25. facebook.com/thelivingroomsocial.

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