These lesser-known Baltimore galleries and performance spaces — many of them artist-run — may not be on your radar. It's time to change that.
After Ansar Miller-Abdullah watched the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in the spring of 2015, he wanted to fill a void he saw for young Baltimoreans.
"I felt the need, after witnessing all of that, for a place the youth could feel like they have hopes and dreams absorbed and understood. I opened this place September 2015," Miller-Abdullah said recently, standing inside the original home of Pipe Dreamz, his boutique clothing shop and gallery. (It has since relocated to a larger space.)
Pipe Dreamz began as a store to sell Miller-Abdullah's clothes of the same name, but it also soon became a gathering spot for young artists, rappers, poets, photographers and more to collaborate, debate and connect with one another.
Miller-Abdullah — who goes by A.C. because he's a native of Atlantic City, N.J. — said Baltimore had hangouts for art-school types, but not one that spoke "directly to the streets, which I come from."
"What I wanted to do was fuse the two," he said. "I wanted the street kid from Pennsylvania Avenue to be able to bond with the young boy from Towson or Parkville."
Through word of mouth, Pipe Dreamz — along with its popular open-mic events known as the Pipeline Series — has grown so popular that Miller-Abdullah needed a bigger building. At the beginning of September, the store and gallery moved to 407 N. Charles St.
"It's kind of bittersweet, but it's necessary," he said. "Otherwise, we're going to end up busting through these floors."
The white walls at his original storefront were filled with more than 4,000 signatures from visitors, ranging from local rap stars like YBS Skola and the late Lor Scoota to the more than 30 artists who've hung their work there. Pieces range from brightly colored, surreal cartoons to paintings of rap artists like Kanye West and Travis Scott by Baltimore artist Tyrone Peoples.
The new space is about double the size of the original location, Miller-Abdullah said, and it will feature a gallery area, photography studio and a juice bar. He still plans to sell clothing, and will feature new work by artists each month. But a new space won't change Pipe Dreamz's ethos.
"When you come in here, you're going to come into a place of comfort, no matter who you are," he said. "What we want you to understand is that there are places where you can be recognized and understood."
Pipe Dreamz is located at 407 N. Charles St., Mount Vernon. Open Noon-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. 443-475-0097; pipe-dreamzllc.com
-- Wesley Case
Maxine Taylor moved from Sacramento, Calif., to Prince George's County in 1972 because her ambitions went beyond domesticity.
"I knew I wanted to be more than a mother, and I had to get away from my family to do that," the painter said recently.
An artist who first worked with watercolors and then acrylics and mixed media, Taylor desired a different space conducive to her creativity after her children grew up and left home.
"I decided I didn't need a house. I needed a studio," Taylor said. "It was big. It was open. I wanted a garden. I wanted dirt. I didn't care if it was in the city or in the country, but it turned out the city was a good place to be."
Tucked away on an unassuming street in Butchers Hill is MAXgallery, Taylor's live-work space for the past two decades. The first floor features a gallery that, on a recent visit, featured the exhibition "Edges," with impressive works by artists including LaToya Hobbs, Sondheim Artscape Prize 2017 finalist Mary Anne Arntzen and other local artists.
In 2013, Taylor was invited to participate in the Artscape Gallery Network, an annual selection of local galleries organized and promoted by the free festival. Since then, her space has become a place more for others' art than her own.
When it comes to curation, Taylor said she's motivated to provide a platform for Baltimore artists who lack formal training, just as she does. She's focusing on the neighborhoods nearby, like McElderry Park and the Caring Active Restoring Efforts community.
"I'm not in an arts district, so my aim to set something up here with all the artists in the area," Taylor said. "It's ambitious but it doesn't seem to stop me from trying."
Taylor loves the resiliency she sees in Baltimore artists, who often repurpose various materials for pieces rather than buying new materials. At MAXgallery, there's an emphasis on strong, confident art by black artists. She wants to continue to provide that platform.
"I'm trying to create an opportunity for nonwhite artists to mingle with the general art crowd," she said. "I don't know where that came from, but I see and feel the need, so I'm pursuing it."
MAXGallery is located at 126 N. Madeira St., Butchers Hill. Open 2 p.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and by appointment. 410-804-7459, maxgallery.us.
— Wesley Case
Map of galleries
Current Space is a small gallery with a big history.
Originally the project of 14 local artists, it's an experiment in artistic autonomy and a collaboration between local and national creatives. Back in 2004, Current responded to a request for proposals to occupy an abandoned city-owned Charles Street building, rent-free, until its eventual demolition. Five years into what was supposed to have been a six-month stint, the collective left the building, said co-director Andrew Liang.
Current spent a year without a home before finding its location at the corner of Howard and West Franklin streets. And after years of uncertainty, Current will be able to carry out its artistic mission for good — the city recently accepted the gallery's proposal to buy its building plus the abandoned one next door.
The gallery is co-directed by Liang and Michael Benevento, along with associate director Julianne Hamilton — three of the many artists and volunteers who have been keeping Current Space thriving through all the chaos. They shy away from calling themselves curators, Liang said — rather, they serve as administrators who work with artists to bend Current's two gallery rooms to the artists' exact will.
"Everything is from the artist's vision," Liang said. "They have total freedom to do whatever they want to do within structural limitation."
Current has hosted experimental and avant garde exhibitions that push the boundaries of what art — and galleries — can look like. "Existence and Properties Are Inferred" sent bubbling black orbs spurting up from rocks and asphalt placed around the tile floor. "The Marriages Of Zones Three, Four and Five" transformed Current's main gallery into a steaming, twisted alien landscape. Even the more tame exhibitions feature curious paintings and sculptures that ignite the imagination.
Current has received a $2,500 grant from Santa Fe, N.M.-based arts collective Meow Wolf to fund DIY arts initiatives, and a $500,000 Project C.O.R.E. grant from the state to stabilize blighted areas. Until now, Current had kept the lights on mainly by charging studio space fees, Liang said. With the grant money and the new space, Current can begin to expand to include an indoor-outdoor venue, more studios and residential spaces for artists.
"It'll be a lot of work, but it's exciting," Benevento said.
Current Space is located at 421 N. Howard St., downtown. Open noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. currentspace.com.
-- Danielle Ohl
The S.A.N.D. Gallery
Since late 2015, Milly Vanderwood's downtown gallery has taken on a couple different names — the Incredible Little Art Gallery, Give & Take: An Artistic Experience — but he thinks the latest will stick. Now called the S.A.N.D. Gallery, the acronym stands for "Sell Art Not Drugs."
The West Baltimore native (whose real name is Mark Clarke) believes a strong arts community can lead to "a more positive, more open-minded outlook" for a city like Baltimore, which has plenty of problems but also full of driven people with talent. In his mind, they just need an outlet.
"There's a lot of artists who just don't get that shot or chance to shine," Vanderwood said. "That's what our mission is, in terms of helping the city."
More than 40 artists have pieces hanging on the walls of the S.A.N.D. Gallery, ranging from images of black love to brightly colored works of video game and cartoon characters. Local artists featured include Keva Michelle Richardson and tattoo artist Treehouse Dev. A back room showcases nude paintings.
But the gallery is more than a few rooms to hang paintings.
It also hosts open-mic nights, where poets and rappers come together, and often leave with plans to collaborate further, Vanderwood said.
Andre Hines, the S.A.N.D. Gallery's creative director, who goes by the nickname Kydd, said Sip and Paint nights are some of his favorite experiences here. At free events like these, visitors can come and learn to paint while socializing over a glass of wine, and perhaps tap into a side of themselves they didn't realize existed, he said.
"To me, that's fun, when they sit there and realize how therapeutic it is," said Hines, another West Baltimore native.
The S.A.N.D. Gallery also host board game nights with Uno and Twister, and themed events centered on musicians like Erykah Badu and TV shows including "Moesha" and "Martin." Beyond a gathering space for artists, the S.A.N.D. Gallery offers a safe space "for people to be who they are," Hines said.
"It's just allowing people to go somewhere other than the club. … It's a place where you can come and there's no pressure," Hines said. "We're going to have fun."
The S.A.N.D. Gallery is located at 823 E. Baltimore St. (Doors A&B), downtown. Open 6 p.m.-midnight Friday; 2 p.m.-11 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. 410-504-9249, sellartnotdrugs.tumblr.com.
— Wesley Case
Hamilton Art Gallery
Past the intersection painted with sunflowers and the corner store with a giant carrot sticking through its brickwork, you'll find the Hamilton Art Gallery. A roomy, two-gallery space with a cozy viewing couch and plenty of natural light, Hamilton is a trove of multidisciplinary art.
The gallery features works by the Hamilton Arts Collective, a group of about 20 artists who feel like a family, said collective member Ariana Bock.
"There's a lot of talent here," Bock said. "There's a symbiosis."
The works featured in the gallery are varied — mixed-media photographs, traditional oil portraits, eclectic assemblages and chain-like metalworks decorated the walls of the front and back room in July — and offer a glimpse of the diverse backgrounds of collective members.
The artists all have professional training or experience in the arts, said the collective's president, Bridget Z. Sullivan, and some bring with them additional experience in web design, museum studies, creative writing and the culinary arts.
The collective forms a jury that selects new members and supports the gallery by displaying and selling their works and staffing the space on a rotational basis.
Bock, who joined the collective earlier this year, said it's an opportunity for "anything anyone wants to bring to the table." Collective members display works in the Hamilton Art Gallery monthly, addressing everything from the environment and human relationships to race and architecture
Hamilton hosts a new exhibition 10 months out of the year, Sullivan said, with a reception on the first Friday of each month. A typical show might feature a collection by a guest artist or the collective's interpretation on a central theme.
Guests artists are often local, residing within 60 miles of the Hamilton Avenue space, Sullivan said. But the gallery is "flexible" and has shown work from international artists as well. In September, Hamilton featured pieces from Dona Grant, a woman who photographs the hidden beauty in the Hamilton-Lauraville neighborhood, while in 2012, Hamilton participated in a work exchange with a group of artists from Hyderabad, India. Annually, the Hamilton Gallery selects and displays work from local students in kindergarten through 12th grade, a "big deal" to the community, Sullivan said.
Members also host workshops and sometimes invite musical acts to play in the space. Overall, Sullivan said, the Hamilton Gallery is a resource for local artists.
"We want to serve each other in that way," she said. "We want to provide an exhibit space and also a community."
Hamilton Art Gallery is located at 5502 Harford Road, Hamilton Hills. Open 4 p.m.–8 p.m. Friday, noon–8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.–3 p.m Sunday. 410-598-9277, hamiltonarts.org.
— Danielle Ohl
Walking into SpaceCamp feels a little like entering another frontier.
The 5,000-square-foot Charles North gallery space is stark and vast, with discoveries awaiting on every wall.
The product of volunteer efforts from five "camp counselors," SpaceCamp seeks to give agency to Baltimore artists who might otherwise not be able to stage their own shows, said Marian Glebes, one of the counselors.
The name reflects their embracing of an exploratory, DIY spirit, Glebes said.
"We decided to found SpaceCamp as a central project," she said, "that creates, essentially, campsites," or temporary spaces for art and culture to flourish.
The gallery inside the North Avenue Market is one of those sites. (The collective also helps stage temporary installations at other locations.) The SpaceCamp team does not create the content that fills the lofty walls, but supports artists who might have a creation with nowhere to put it or an idea with little knowledge of how to get started.
The space follows the "rules of the campsite," Glebes said, meaning artists must learn how to install their own pieces and leave no footprints behind, as campers might take care to do in an unexplored patch of woods. Beyond those rules, there are few limitations on how artists can use the space.
"We like to be a space [for] projects that wouldn't necessarily happen at a commercial gallery," Glebes said. "Because we are volunteers … we have an incredible amount of flexibility."
This fall, SpaceCamp will host the Feminist Art Project's "Feminism Fights Patriarchal Power" show and an annual performance art review from Baltimore's LabBodies.
SpaceCamp is part of ongoing efforts to give artists the "opportunity to have an exhibition space where they otherwise wouldn't," said another counselor, Allison Gulick.
Since the closing of Bell Foundry, a DIY art space shut down by Baltimore housing officials in December, groups like SpaceCamp have been witnesses to a "difficult" conversation about the city and its art spaces, Glebes said. Without the aid of DIY spaces, artists might have little recourse for staging events, gaining proper permits and installing exhibits, she said.
"It's a tenuous climate," Glebes said. "An artist doesn't necessarily have to be all things — it takes a tremendous amount of effort — so we wanted to be able to create resources."
SpaceCamp is located at 16 W. North Ave., Charles North. Gallery hours vary. s-p-a-c-e-c-a-m-p.net.
— Danielle Ohl
Originally a gallery/performance space/library carved out of a Remington auto-body shop, Open Space fell victim to a two-alarm fire four years ago. Undeterred, the artist-run gallery reopened in a more modest Seton Hill storefront in fall 2014.
The resiliency speaks to a spirit that has guided Open Space since its founding in 2009. Its power is not limited to a specific space. Instead, it thrives on the camaraderie among the art collective's members and a shared love for contemporary art that often won't break the bank.
"People become involved, and then we all become friends. … Whatever each person's interests are influences the way the space is run," said co-director Nick Peelor. "We trust each other's sensibilities. That's what makes things work, but it's always kind of mutating."
While Open Space began with an emphasis on comics and illustrations, it has greatly expanded its reach since. It has hosted poetry readings, music performances, film screenings and lectures, along with a wide variety of exhibitions, including recently, Mikael Flores-Amper's "Surface Shift," an "architectural intervention" installation that added another floor visitors could walk on.
Perhaps most notable, though, is Open Space's impact on the arts community outside its four walls. Each year, Open Space holds the Publications and Multiples Fair, which highlights prints, zines, jewelry, textiles and other smaller objects typically priced between $5 and $200. The eighth annual fair occurred in April, and featured nearly 200 vendors from Baltimore to Los Angeles, Peelor said.
Its other large, annual project is the Artist-Run Art Fair, which runs during Artscape in the parking garage across the street from the Charles Theatre. There, you'll often come across interactive, modern installations that feel like right at home in Baltimore's wonderfully odd arts scene.
These fairs attract artists and fans from outside the city — something Open Space takes pride in, Peelor said.
"It's a way to connect Baltimore artists to large groups of people, as well as connecting people in Baltimore with other cities," he said. "We're trying to have a larger conversation between Baltimore and abroad."
Open Space is located at 512 W. Franklin St., Seton Hill. Open 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Saturday when exhibits are occurring. 443-963-8510, openspacebaltimore.com.
— Wesley Case
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