Strapped for cash and facing a sizable amount of debt, Baltimore’s only community nonprofit devoted to the ceramic arts is looking to sell one or both of its historic properties and potentially leave its Mount Washington campus behind.
In a letter sent out on Sunday to community members, Baltimore Clayworks board president Kathy Holt announced the organization’s intentions to sell at least one of its Smith Avenue buildings.
Clayworks purchased its original studio building, formerly an Enoch Pratt Library branch, from the city in 1980. It houses 15 kilns, 13 artist studios, three large classroom studios, a semi-private studio space and two glaze rooms. The Saint Paul Companies donated Clayworks’ second building, located at 5707 Smith Avenue, in 1999. A former convent built in the late 19th century, it now holds the organization’s gallery, shops, and administrative offices, among other facilities.
Unfortunately, Holt wrote, the second building came with a lot of “unanticipated expenses,” including a much-needed roof, plumbing, and electrical repairs. Some of them were too expensive for Clayworks and required loans to pay for them. Today, the $900,000 total debt they have accrued over the last 13 years is straining the group’s finances, Holt said. The sum is too hefty for the organization to pay back with its current $100,000 endowment and regular fundraising pool.
“Our finances, particularly the accrued mortgage and lines of credit, have become more than our organization can sustain,” Holt wrote.
To pay off the debt and make Clayworks more financially equipped for the future, the nonprofit is looking to sell its main building and potentially its studio across the street as well, “depending on the cost and suitability of a variety of sites” where they could move, Holt wrote. The money from the sale would be enough for Clayworks to pay off its debt, buy another space, renovate it, and keep some money as a nest egg.
Whatever building Clayworks decides on will need to be as adaptable as its current space. The nonprofit’s list of requirements for a new space includes that it have appropriate safety standards (including ADA compliance), parking and space for kilns, shops, classrooms, galleries and studios.
Leaders may be eyeing something closer to the walkable confines of the city. An FAQ posted by the organization says it may look for “an arts district where there is potential foot traffic, cross-pollination among artists of many fields, and developing partnerships with other organizations.”
Holt wrote that the search and outfitting of a new space “could easily take another year to 18 months.” The sale of the property alone will take at least a year, the organization predicts. Clayworks hired MAIKLN to help them broker the move.
Holt and other staff couldn’t be reached for comment Monday morning, but she expressed optimism about the change in her letter:
While many of us will react with emotions of anxiety and sadness by the potential loss of our long time home in Mount Washington, we encourage you to consider and remember that Clayworks is not defined by its buildings. Clayworks is defined by its people – staff, students, artists, YOU – and this change would not only allow for the continuance of its Mission – but also begin a sustainable new era for the organization.
Clayworks is holding a meeting this week where community members can ask questions and share ideas. It’s is set for Wednesday, Feb. 8, from 5:15-6:45 p.m. in the studio building. Those who want to ask questions ahead of time can email [email protected].
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