Mayor's Safe Art Space Task Force holds forum for public input

Mayor's Safe Art Space Task Force heard from the public on Thursday.

College students, artists and other supporters of Baltimore's arts community gathered Thursday evening at the War Memorial Building to discuss safe, affordable housing and workspaces for artists.

The forum, held by Mayor Catherine Pugh's Safe Art Space Task Force, was held to solicit thoughts and concerns in the wake of the Bell Foundry's closure in Station North and the Oakland, Calif., arts space fire that killed 36 in December.

While many of the approximately 60 attendees declined to speak, some expressed concerns about displaced artists, the arts community's distrust of bureaucracies and what they considered the task force's slow pace in finding solutions to the problems.

"I'm worried about the task force having arts spaces to protect by the time we submit this," said Dan Deacon, a musician and a task force member. He said some artists have told him they believe their spaces are being targeted by the city.

"We need to suggest to the mayor immediately that there be some sort of moratorium on these [fire code] inspections, and that people have a grace period of reasonable time to update these spaces," Deacon said.

A representative of the Baltimore Fire Department said inspectors are not targeting arts spaces and typically act in response to citizen complaints.

The task force held its first meeting Jan. 9. There are six more meetings scheduled — with the last on May 16 — before the group submits its recommendations to the mayor.

Those at Thursday's gathering were encouraged to complete the task force's new survey for artists, located on the group's website.

The survey was made anonymous in hopes of quelling artists' concerns that providing input would make them targets of further scrutiny, said task force member Elissa Blount Moorhead, executive director of the Station North Arts & Entertainment District.

City Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who is not a part of the group, said the city should work with artists who have the know-how to bring their living spaces and workspaces up to code but lack the proper licensing to conduct the work. They often don't have the money to hire a contractor to perform the work, he said.

"This is part of the essence of the challenge of DIY spaces — knowing that you can get it done, but there are capital barriers to success," Dorsey said. "Maybe it's possible for there to be a city-and-DIY partnership in issuing permits and allowing people to perform work under some guidance or supervision by the city."

The next task force meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 4 p.m. March 7. The location has not been determined.

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