Opponents of Clayworks Sale: ‘Our Campaign is Continuing’

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Protesters outside Baltimore Clayworks in April.

Community members petitioning for Baltimore Clayworks to forego selling its two historic Mount Washington buildings say they’re not done fighting.

Clayworks, the city’s 37-year-old, ceramics-centered nonprofit, announced Wednesday that its leaders have signed a contract to sell the studio and gallery buildings, located at 5706 and 5707 Smith Avenue, respectively, to an unidentified local nonprofit. The planned sale price for the two buildings is $3.7 million — $800,000 below what the nonprofit had been asking only a month ago.

But members of the Clayworks Community Campaign, a coalition of residents who have voiced strong opposition to the sale, note that the deal is still not set in stone.

“Basically, they’ve signed this contract. The sale is not complete until that contract is closed and settled. Our campaign is continuing,” said Marsha Smelkinson, a spokeswoman for the campaign.

Smelkinson, a student, member, donor and volunteer at Clayworks for the last seven years, started a petition earlier this year calling for the group to terminate its sale plans. It’s received more than 860 community members’ signatures (a small number of which the nonprofit has deemed invalid in a white paper).

“We don’t have authority,” she said. “We have public opinion, and it’s vast, and it’s widespread, and it’s, as close as I can ascertain, universal. I’ve yet to see anyone here — other than the representatives of the board – express support for the sale of all the assets and the move.”

Clayworks is looking to sell and relocate because it’s accrued $900,000 in debt over the last 13 years, and is struggling to remain solvent with its given endowment and fundraising pool.

Board president Kathy Holt wrote in a February announcement that the group wants to stabilize its finances and open up the possibility of expanding. On Wednesday, the group said it’s exploring potentially moving to one of the city’s three designated arts and entertainment districts in Station North, Highlandtown and around the old Bromo Seltzer Tower, assuming it can close on the proposed deal.

Speaking by phone today, interim executive director Devon Powell said that to execute the contract of sale, leaders have to bring it before the Maryland Board of Public Works, which comprises Gov. Larry Hogan, state Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.

The board needs to approve any sale because of state-funded past renovations of its facilities with public bonds — $800,000 worth, according to the Clayworks Community Campaign.

Petitioners say they’ve identified the prospective buyer of the properties. Powell declined to confirm the purchaser’s identity.

The Clayworks Community Campaign has scheduled a community meeting on Monday, June 12, from 6-8 p.m. More details about where weren’t immediately available, though updates will be posted to the group’s website and Facebook page.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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4 COMMENTS

  1. The Clayworks Community open meeting to discuss opposition to the sale of the campus in Mount Washington will be held on Monday evening, June 12. Details:
    WHEN: 6-8pm, Monday 6/12/17
    WHERE: Corner Community Center, First Christian Church, 5802 Roland Ave. at Bellemore
    RSVP: [email protected]

  2. Somewhat ambivalent to this, but I am struggling to figure out the “standing” of the opposition. Is it just people that really really like the business and dont want to see it go? I liked Blockbuster, but I didn’t complain when they left because they were losing money. Does the group hope to force a private enterprise to remain open losing money? I’d love to know the thought process here.

    • Hi Greg I miss Blockbuster too. Understand however that Baltimore Clayworks is a nonprofit organization that relies on earned income along with grants, donations, volunteers and public support in sevral different forms. If you had been a shareholder in Blockbuster you would have had a voice. The community of Baltimore Clayworks is comprised of shareholders in a somewhat similar way. By paying a supporting membership and making donations used to pay operating expenses & for capital mprovements. Because Baltimore Clayworks has benefited from State bond money and operating grant, the State has a voice as well.

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