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Baltimore mayor's task force on artists' housing meets for first time

Local artists gathered their belongings from the Bell Foundry arts building as it is condemned by the city. (Baltimore Sun video)

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh's Safe Arts Space Task Force, formed after last month's shuttering of the workspace and performance venue the Bell Foundry due to safety violations, met for the first time Monday to discuss how the city can create a network of safe, cost-effective spaces where emerging artists can live, work and hold performances.

The meeting at the University of Baltimore Angelos Law Center mostly acted as an introduction and discussion between the task force and local artists, with both sides aiming to promote discourse around the complex issues of affordable housing for artists and public safety. Former residents of the Bell Foundry expressed concerns of expensive housing and distrust between government agencies and artists, while employees of the Baltimore Fire Department talked about how they carry out safety complaints.

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About 40 people, roughly half of which were members of the task force, attended the meeting, which was led by chairs Franklin McNeil and Jon Laria. Other members of the task force include local artists and musicians like Dan Deacon, Lu Zhang and John Berndt, along with Elissa Blount Moorhead and Jeannie Howe, executive directors of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, respectively.

A main objective of the meeting was to identify the most significant issues and concerns that would impede the mayor's goal to create safe and cost-effective housing and performances spaces for artists. On a white board, Laria wrote responses from the audience that included artists' distrust of intervention and government, what's a reasonable amount for rent and a perceived lack of transparency from government agencies.

Laria said the task force hopes to include more artists from the city's do-it-yourself community for input on how the city should address affordable housing for artists.

Last month, Pugh said she formed the task force in part because of the deadly warehouse fire in an Oakland, Calif., building known as the Ghost Ship that killed dozens on Dec. 2.

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