Artists and galleries look to the future

Sitting around a table at Old Mill Cafe, the members of the Ellicott City Arts Coalition discussed the upcoming holiday season.

Should a banner be purchased to advertise the Holiday Hop on Dec. 1 and 2? Where was the Christmas tree being set up and would there be lights or just star ornaments?

While these concerns may seem trivial to many, they are a lifeline to normalcy for the group.

After a second flood in two years devastated many of their businesses and livelihoods this past summer, the members – a mix of artists and gallery owners - want to celebrate the future by showcasing those still standing either on Main Street or by relocating elsewhere.

“This community has been through so much. We support each other,” said MaTt Koplow, an artist with Clayground Studio and Gallery. “This city is more than just the buildings. To me, the character [of the town] is the shop owners. The people who live and work here.”

That support continues even when one leaves Main Street.

“I went through both floods in Ellicott City. I just couldn’t do it again,” said Robin Holliday, owner of Horsespirit Arts Gallery. “This one knocked me hard. It was harder this time to stand up.”

Many of the 40-plus artists whom she represented in her Ellicott City gallery came forward after both floods to help her clean and salvage what she could of her gallery. They also supported her when she announced she would not be returning to Main Street.

“I know people are reopening businesses and I respect that. I, personally, could not do that,” Holliday said. “I was so tired of being afraid.”

On Nov. 10, Holliday will celebrate the grand opening of Horsespirit Arts Gallery in Historic Savage Mill. It is a move that she found both essential and bittersweet.

“There is still pain associated with leaving but I knew quickly it was the right thing to do,” Holliday said. “It is not without its sadness. I got so close to all the business owners. We really had a community.”

“Even though Robin is not reopening, she is still a part of the business,” said Laurie Hansen, an artist whose work Holliday features. “We all want to give her support.”

Cindi Ryland, president of Retropolitan at Taylor’s Collective, said that the support the community and fellow artists have given her after both floods has changed her.

“Since the first flood, everybody has come together. It has brought out the best of us,” Ryland said. “We’re all in this together.”

The Artists’ Gallery had not yet moved into its location on Main Street when the July 2016 flood hit and its opening was delayed due to structural damage to its building’s foundation. The May 2018 flood left only mud at its front door, though the recovery has been a little harder.

“We are feeling the repercussions of the flood,” said Diane Dunn, an artist with the gallery. “During the summer, with all the rain storms, people didn’t want to be in the area. Shoppers and tourists were really nervous. Our sales are down.”

After a brief search for another location, the 25 artists of the Artists’ Gallery decided to remain for financial reasons.

“We have so much money invested in the gallery,” Dunn said. “ We cannot do much. We’ll sit it out and hope for the best.”

Syrinna Café and Gallery had only been open three weeks when the July 2016 flood hit. It had to close for over a year, reopening in December 2017. After the May 2018 flood, it closed for two months.

“We are a new business. There is no way we can move,” Rasha Obain, owner, said of the decision to stay.

Obain had been drawn to Ellicott City because its narrow street and buildings reminded her of her hometown in Syria. She originally planned to open just a gallery of Syrian art but decided to include a café, too.

“We wanted to make it the whole experience,” Obain said. “To showcase the culture here so people can see what they don’t see on TV.”

Business had picked up once the street reopened, but rain, and the fear of flooding, has kept it down.

“I don’t blame them. It was really terrifying the last flood,” Obain said. “Heavy rain, people don’t want to come down the street. It is not good for any businesses here.”

With successful events such as the Halloween trick-or-treat, she is seeing business pick up again.

“We want to give it a chance and be open a whole year,” Obain said. “We’re hopeful for the holiday season.”

Plans are being finalized for future events including Shop Small Saturday, Midnight Madness and the Ellicott City Arts Coalition’s Holiday Hop.

Bree Hughes, an instructor at the Claygrounds, believes that Ellicott City’s merchants will survive as it evolves for the future.

“This town has been here since 1772,” Hughes said. “This isn’t our first flood. We had the Depression, world wars and a lot of other heavy things. Nothing will take away the history of the place.

“All I want is for this community to be attractive to artists and for people to come and visit,” Hughes said.

Holliday is grateful she was able to relocate her gallery in Howard County.

“The Howard County Arts Council ...helped so many artists,” Holliday said. “I had a lot help to get this far.”

For her third grand opening in three years, Holliday is hosting an all-day event from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a festive reception from 5 to 9 p.m.

“I’m really focusing on the future,” Holliday said. “It’s all coming together. I’m thrilled.”

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