Baltimore Works to Provide Housing for Artists

The Baltimore Sun reports that the Baltimore Rock Opera Society returned to its rehearsal space at the previously shuttered Bell Foundry near the Station North Arts and Entertainment District on February 21.

The Bell Foundry was condemned by the housing department on December 5, several days after the deadly Ghost Ship fire in Oakland,  where inspectors found that individuals were living on the premises without a use and occupancy permit along with other safety violations.

A housing department official later described Bell Foundry as a “tragedy waiting to happen.” The official described  “a  rickety, makeshift third floor of living space…above the second floor, ceiling beams intended to hold the roof up had been removed; major appliances like a stove were plugged into an ungrounded, overwhelmed electrical system.” The official also said there was evidence of a past electrical fire and the unpermitted heating system was set up in a way that put the space at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and even an explosion.

But to the artists being evicted, the closing of Bell Foundry was devastating. Artists depend on these spaces not just for their livelihoods, but also as a source of community. One resident told City Paper that the Bell Foundry literally saved his life. Bell Foundry also had a reputation for being a welcoming a space for LGBT community and people of color.

Recognizing that the Bell Foundry is not the only unsafe artist space existing in the city, that such spaces exist due to a lack of affordable housing for artists, Mayor Pugh has set up a task force to find solutions to this most pressing issue. This is no easy task, but the problem is not impossible to solve. Solutions will require flexible zoning rules, time to allow artists to get their properties up to code, and funding from city,state, federal, and nonprofit sources.

The Copycat Building offers an interesting example of how artists can live in affordable, safe, and legal spaces. Initially started as illegal artist live/work studios in a converted warehouse, the Copycat Building is now fully legal and serves as a safe and affordable space for artists and other creative types. The uniqueness of the Copycat Building has even attracted national attention. Baltimore’s new zoning code also has a designation known as Industrial Mixed-Use that allows for artists live/work spaces.

Baltimore’s underground artists spaces contribute so much to our city, but the city cannot allow anyone to live in a deathtrap. We look forward to seeing the results of the task force and a proposal for safe and sufficient artist housing in Baltimore City.

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Gregory Friedman

Gregory Friedman

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