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Artists take up residence in community

After Paris and L.A., Janeann Dill finds Baltimore

“I think Baltimore is the best kept secret in the nation,” Janeann Dill said, admitting she previously had no idea of the amount of activity in the city’s visual arts scene.

Dill got in on the secret after applying for a position in the residency program at Creative Alliance, a non-profit arts organization based in Highlandtown’s Patterson Theater.

“A residency is created for the purpose of focusing on your art, focusing completely on what you do. That’s its purpose,” she said. “This is the first residency I’ve ever heard of in America that’s long-term.”

Dill, who arrived in Baltimore in August, is one of 10 artists-in-residence to move into Creative Alliance’s newly renovated facility at the Patterson. Besides a studio in which to live and work, perks of the program include visibility, visits from an advisory board of other artists and discounted access to media equipment.

Seven months after her arrival, Dill said she wasn’t sure how long she would stay; residencies range from one to three years. However, she said she hopes to stay all three years.
“One cannot get bored here at all. But Baltimore, as I understand, is quote unquote a working class city, and I love that because the artists here actually work,” Dill said. “And coming from nine years in Los Angeles, I don’t get any sense of that prima donna that is infamous in L.A. because of the film business.”

Creative Alliance is helping to develop the arts scene in the city with a variety of programming with a local focus, which includes arts education for area kids.

Before Los Angeles–where Dill studied for her MFA at Cal Arts–Dill spent time as an artist in residence at the American Center in Paris. In fact, Dill said her Baltimore studio–with a view over row houses to downtown–reminds her of her Paris studio.

“I looked out over the Notre Dame… So I don’t know how I’ve ended up again, but I’ve come full circle,” she said.

Before living in Paris, Dill, who is originally from Mississippi, had worked for years as a painter in Nashville. A friend’s reference led her to southern France, where she found an entirely different arts culture.

“Growing up in the South as a woman artist was in and of itself an interesting experience, to say the least, and then going to France, where being an artist is something highly respected and revered, it was wonderful, wonderful,” Dill said.

Another connection in France later motivated Dill to return to America to attend California Institute of the Arts in 1990. She had been creating 20-foot paintings and commissioning soundtracks and choreography to accompany them; the logical progression led to filmmaking, Dill said.

At Cal Arts she worked under her mentor Jules Engel, founder of the experimental animation department at the school and an early Disney animator with credits in Fantasia and Bambi . Since 1998 Dill has worked on the Jules Engel Project, which includes a biography, a documentary film and a Web site, which is not yet complete.

“On the application to Creative Alliance they ask is there a project that you’re doing that you’d like to see Creative Alliance participate in in some way,” Dill said. “And this was the project that I had sent in, because it is what has been ongoing for quite a while.”

Engel died in September 2003, only a month after Dill arrived in Baltimore for her residency. While the project was far from completion, Dill exhibited items of Engel’s work and previewed her documentary during a fund-raising event at Creative Alliance in March 2004.

The day before the show, pieces to be matted were still scattered around Dill’s second-floor studio. She had been up until 4 a.m. Over a cup of coffee the next morning, Dill said she would probably finish by midnight.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve hung my own shows but that’s OK. Gets me back in touch with the visceral element of having the work and showing it and doing it grassroots up,” Dill said. “That’s the thematic for Baltimore.”

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