For hours last night, Joe Martin, headquarters operations captain for the nonprofit Baltimore Rock Opera Society, stood on a ladder outside the Bell Foundry building in Station North, wielding a power washer borrowed from the Station North Tool Library. He was removing 15-foot high black spray paint from the exterior of the beleaguered artist space.
He had nearly finished the job Friday morning, though, as shown in the photo above, there was still some work left. Shannon Light Hadley, the group’s managing director, said they would likely need to solicit donations to buy latex paint to fix the painted brick on the bottom half.
Martin inherited this job after a local graffiti artist tagged the building with the phrase, “$HAME 100.” The unnamed artist told City Paper’s Brandon Soderberg the act was “aimed at the disgusting machine of divestment, reinvestment, and displacement,” and added, “it is shameful to displace artists and it is shameful that the property is now going for so much.”
He was referring to the recent news that the Bell Foundry, which once housed dozens of artists, has been listed for sale with its surrounding land for a cool $1 million by Avenue Real Estate. It’s now been on the market for 22 days.
In a phone interview Thursday night, BROS leadership said they could see where the graffiti artist was coming from – “We understand. We get it,” said Hadley – but they had some questions.
“We’re doing work on the ground and we’re trying to a lasting, positive impact on our community,” said artistic director Aran Keating. “What is the positive impact that artist wants to create with that statement?…What’s the outcome that this artist wants? What’s your solution?”
The owner’s decision to list the property came nearly four months after city officials evicted dozens of artists who had been living or working there due to building and fire code violations. The ordeal left many of them displaced and pushed Mayor Catherine Pugh to form a Safe Artist Space Task Force to try to come up with a solution for safer, affordable options for the city’s creatives.
BROS, a nonprofit arts group that regularly produces epic and well-received rock opera shows, hasn’t secured a permanent workspace in its eight years of existence. The Bell Foundry’s first floor has come close, offering a customizable location that has housed a workshop and practice space for the group’s productions for the last four years.
Since the December eviction, BROS members has endured other losses, including the forced shuttering of their band rehearsal space in West Baltimore – which remains closed, despite a promise from its owner in late January to reopen after a month – as well as a January burglary in which thousands of dollars’ worth of tools went missing while they had been shut out of the building.
The next month, BROS did get some good news from the city after Baltimore Housing granted the group a permit to reoccupy its first-floor space. Presently, they’re the only ones authorized to be back in the building.
Seeing the tagged exterior this building threw salt in an open wound. “Since December, this building to us has taken on all this baggage that we’ve been trying to get past,” said Keating. “That’s been like running on a treadmill basically, doing work and arguing with the landlord and working with officials just to try to get back on our feet and function as a community organization.”
“To show up and see the space where you’re still trying to make your home, to see it vandalized in that way…it’s just one thing after another.”
Roughly a week after the December eviction, BROS launched a fundraiser to secure a “forever home.” The campaign seeks $75,000 to build a headquarters that would hold a performance and practice space, offices, storage, front and back houses and other facilities.
So far, the group has surpassed its halfway mark, raising nearly $39,000 through Friday morning. Spokesman Tyler Merchant said Thursday night that BROS leadership had just gotten out of a meeting with members and volunteers about ramping up their fundraising efforts.
They’re now entering a “secondary push” in their campaign, he said.