Baltimore Clayworks shutting down after 37 years

After a six-month saga involving attempts to pay off its debts, Baltimore Clayworks' board of directors decided Monday to close the 37-year-old nonprofit ceramic arts center for good.

"We've had to make the difficult decision to file Chapter 7 [bankruptcy] and shut down operations," interim executive director Devon Powell said. "We're sad about the totally avoidable and unnecessary loss of Baltimore's jewel of a ceramics organization."


Chapter 7 calls for liquidation of assets to pay off debts.

The announced sale of Baltimore Clayworks' properties called off by buyer; Itineris to purchase current home instead.

Facing $1 million-plus debt, the Clayworks board of directors announced last winter a plan to relocate and sell the organization's studio and gallery buildings in Mount Washington. Last week saw the collapse of a deal to sell Clayworks' facilities for $3.7 million to Itineris, a Baltimore nonprofit that provides job training for adults with autism. (Itineris decided instead to buy the building it had been renting).


In a statement released Monday afternoon, board president Kathy Holt said: "We understand the impact this will have on the larger arts community. It is exceedingly painful to those that Clayworks has served. We are all grief-stricken with the result."

An effort this summer to raise $50,000 to restore cash flow at Clayworks generated a little more than 10 percent of that goal. The Clayworks Community Campaign, the grassroots organization that sprang up quickly in opposition to the sale plan, raised $200,000 in donations and pledges. It offered the sum to the board to ease the financial pressure and allow time to plan Clayworks' future. In exchange, the Community Campaign asked for representation on the Clayworks board. The offer was not accepted.

Holt said that the $200,000 offer "came with a variety of restrictions in order to be disbursed."

Some of the money could have been available this week, Holt said.

"It was not enough, nor in enough time, to stave off bankruptcy," she said. "An infusion of an immediate $200,000 would have allowed us to file for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, giving us time to continue operations and restructure, to continue to seek a buyer for our property(ies), to work with the steering committee, and, potentially, to survive. Without it, and with many creditors, now being insolvent, we are facing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy this week."

Over the past several months, each side accused to other of bad faith, misrepresentation and more.

Several weeks ago, as a long term supporter of the Baltimore Clayworks, I received an email stating that the governing board had decided to sell the Clayworks Campus in Mount Washington, use the proceeds to pay off the organization's mortgages and debt, and apply the balance to facilitate a relocation to a new location. A number constituents of the Clayworks who oppose the board's decision have initiated a campaign to keep the board from proceeding with the sale. they fear that without a clear

Powell said that "thanks largely or directly to Clayworks Community Campaign members," the board's efforts to chart a new direction for the organization were unsuccessful.

"We told everyone that this would happen if we couldn't sell the buildings," Powell said. "We've been drowning for six months. But unless there is a dead body, people don't react."

Clayworks, which has had an annual budget of about $1.2 million, had about a dozen full- and part-time employees.

In a statement, Marsha Smelkinson of the steering committee of the Clayworks Community Campaign called this "an awesomely difficult time, with many pressures."

Smelkinson said that "fresh ideas and renewed energy and vision come from a change in leadership. Fresh leadership is called for, and the larger Clayworks Community and Maryland arts community [are] aware that there are vast resources and new leaders ready and eager to get to work."

The Clayworks board "should not close the doors and take this once grand institution into bankruptcy," Smelkinson said.


At this point, it is unclear when or how artists will be able to retrieve works they have in the Clayworks buildings.

Holt said that the buildings will be closed "until further notice, very likely until a bankruptcy-court appointed trustee can manage the situation."

Recommended on Baltimore Sun