The Arts Collective in Towson has grown into its new, larger space, and will hopefully launched a film studio this fall.
It's easy to see the brightly colored paintings hanging in the Arts Collective's Chesapeake Avenue gallery, in Towson, from the sidewalk — people can peek in and see the bold, abstract works featured this month as part of an exhibit called "Artdromeda."
What people can't see from the street are the other art opportunities offered by the collective, said Diane Margiotta, president of the group's board of directors. The collective is now offering dance classes, a small stage for performances, and a space in which photographers can print photos on archival-quality paper. Soon, Margiotta hopes, the collective also will offer materials for videographers, including computers equipped with the software needed to bring a film to life.
The Arts Collective is a nonprofit with the mission of providing space and education for artists. According to its website, it seeks "to promote the growth of greater Towson's art community by combining the knowledge and energy of its residents and students with working professionals."
Artists can become a member of the group for $35, though there are additional tiers of membership with added benefits, and discounts available if an artist belongs to other groups.
Margiotta first got involved with the collective in 2007, and has seen its location move from a hard-to-find spot on York Road into a brightly lit studio on Chesapeake.
When the collective moved three years ago into its new space at 40 W. Chesapeake Ave. — which is officially called the Ellene "Brit" Christiansen Arts Center — it was empty. Over time, the collective has added amenities to the space, such as a gift shop, a studio for artists in residence and the photo printing studio.
Increased visibility is key, Margiotta said. The center is open for artists to drop by if they want to use the space, and the large, sunlit room at the arts center allows the public to look in on art being created.
"Here the community can easily see what [artists are] doing as they walk by 80 feet of windows," Margiotta said.
Membership has grown about 30 percent over the past three years, Margiotta said. Many of those new members are performers and musicians, she said, largely due to the fact that the collective now has room and a stage on which to host performances. The new space has also allowed the collective to expand on one of its core missions — making the arts available to everyone.
The old space on York Road didn't have any windows, and was filled with clanging pipes and noise from the restaurant. Most importantly, it was not accessible to disabled persons, while the new space is.
"It's important for artists with disabilities to empower other artists," Margiotta said.
The collective has also been partnering more with other art groups over the past three years, Margiotta said.
The Baltimore Modern Quilting Association, Towson University, Baltimore Sculptors Group, Baltimore Watercolor Society and Gallery 788 are a few examples.
The collective is also partnering with a recently launched group, The Film Bank, for its filmmaking classes, Margiotta said. The Film Bank's goals are to create opportunities for young people to make, produce and distribute film, and to expand the film art export industry in Maryland, according to Margiotta.
There's a lot of filmmaking talent in Maryland, coming from schools such as University of Maryland Baltimore County and Towson University, she said.
"It would be great to keep some of that talent here and have the film industry really develop in Maryland, rather than it just being a place where you find interesting locations and a tax break," she said.
The collective has applied to the Baltimore County Commission of Arts and Sciences for $7,500 in public funds. With that as a start, the group hopes to raise an additional $35,000 through private and in-kind donations, Margiotta said, adding that they plan on holding classes regardless of the grant's outcome.
Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said he supports the Arts Collective getting the grant. County spokeswoman Fronda Cohen said the grant is currently under review, adding that the grants for the current fiscal year will be awarded in the fall.
"I think the Towson Arts Collective is a wonderful resource," Marks said. "As Towson grows and attracts more residents, the hope is that that can be more of a cultural resource for the community."
Eduardo Rodriguez, the founder of Baltimore-based Gallery 788, was at the arts center July 14. Gallery 788 is currently holding Artdromeda, a pop-up show, in the space.
The Baltimore resident said he sees the potential for a great arts scene in Towson.
"I'm excited about Towson and the changes that are coming here," he said, talking about nearby redevelopment.
While the collective's latest initiative is high-tech, artists still use the space as a studio for painting. Three artists were painting at the center July 14, spaced about 20 feet apart on the concrete floor of the gallery.
Elizabeth Elder, of Baltimore, was painting a scene with trees based on photos she took near Loch Raven Reservoir. Elder, 71, has been a volunteer with the collective for about a month, she said, adding that she is returning to art after a 15-year hiatus.
"This gives me a place to set up and be as messy as I want to be," she said, adding that her small condo in the city is cramped.
Being a part of the Arts Collective also gives her the chance to be a part of a community, she said. For example, though she is painting a realistic scene, she felt inspired by the abstract pieces displayed in the gallery. Working with others is also valuable, she said.
Elder heard about the collective through a friend.
"I'm very happy it's here," she said. "I wish more people knew about it. There's so much talent in the area. This is kind of a little Mecca."
In the middle of the gallery floor, Towson resident Ibrahim Harris, a rising senior at Towson University, was painting a simpler scene — an apple on a blue cloth. He's been working with the collective since the start of the summer.
"They're very open and accepting," he said.
At the front of the gallery, Matt Fenton, a city resident and retired engineer, painted a watercolor scene of a house near a lime kiln in Cromwell Valley State Park. Fenton dropped by unexpectedly and chatted with Margiotta before setting up to paint.
Fenton, who grew up in Rodgers Forge, said he has been coming to the collective since February.