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What does a ‘culturally equitable’ city look like? Baltimore’s upcoming first Black Artist Fair offers hints.

The Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts & Entertainment District, a Baltimore organization that works to promote local artists, is hosting its first annual Black Artist Fair on Friday through Sunday

The free event will be held virtually and feature 70 speakers, including author, entertainer and comedian Amanda Seals, who will deliver the keynote.

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The purpose is to help blossoming artists whose growth may have been stunted due to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 2,500 people are expected to log on for the festivities streaming live on Facebook and YouTube.

Brion Gill, 30, who goes by “Lady Brion,” is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts & Entertainment District. She hopes artists can learn how to replenish some of their finances that may have been lost due to the pandemic.

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“We recognize that especially for entrepreneurs during the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of people did not have stable supplies or they had to come up with new ways to have a revenue stream,” Gill said. “People lost revenue when events and exhibitions got canceled.”

Brion Gill is the executive director of The Baltimore Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts & Entertainment District, which is behind the upcoming Black Artist Fair.
Brion Gill is the executive director of The Baltimore Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts & Entertainment District, which is behind the upcoming Black Artist Fair. (Phil Davis/Baltimore Sun)

An estimated 2.7 million jobs were lost in the creative industry, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution. The findings also show that roughly 1.4 million of those jobs were in the fine and performing arts.

Now, Gill sees the fair as an opportunity to rebuild.

City leaders, including Mayor Brandon Scott, Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises and Jocquelyn Downs, the director of The Arts Council at Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, will discuss ways Baltimore can better support visionaries.

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“Baltimore has a deep history of leaving people out,” said Kenneth Morrison, 35, who is the curator for the fair. “In this case, Black creatives are left out of resources and we are trying to address that and making it a more culturally equitable city.”

Educational workshops such as “Navigating Technology” and “Grant Writing for Impact” will be offered as well as information on financial advice, tax preparation and professional photography.

A Baltimore native who lives in Cedonia, Gill is a spoken word artist whose talents have been heard on stages across the United States and overseas as far away as Zanzibar.

She taught creative writing in elementary and middle school classrooms and led poetry programs in prisons and group homes throughout Maryland.

In 2015, Gill was recognized as an Open Society fellow. In 2016, she was crowned champion of the National Poetry Slam Competition. And in 2017, she was awarded the 2017 Salzburg Fellowship for Social Innovators.

Two years later, Gill founded the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts & Entertainment District. There are seven people on her team.

“We recognize that in a predominantly Black city, there has not been an equitable lend in the artist sector,” Gill said. “We knew we needed to be doing this work.”

In the later months of 2020, Gill and Morrison, also a spoken word artist, spent time trying to come up with ways to provide resources for artists who either lost their jobs or had to step away from their field to support themselves during the pandemic.

They decided on a virtual event that would help educate and connect creatives while also teaching them to survive without having to abandon their craft.

There were some hurdles while putting the event together in just six months.

“It was difficult because we had to reach circles of artists we had never heard of before,” Morrison said.

He added that roughly 20 cultural organizations, including cable company Comcast and Dewmore Baltimore, which encourages art in marginalized communities, are working to invest in their effort.

“We knew we would not be successful without the support of the city,” Morrison said.

Although this will be the first-ever Black Artist Fair, Gill and Morrison hope to host the event annually.

“This is the time for people to rebrand, stretch, grow and develop,” Gill said. “This is a time to build something new and fan that flame.

This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at khigh@baltsun.com.

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