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Creative Alliance connects to community

Location important to mission of arts organization

Since its start in 1995, Creative Alliance has had a stake in the community. The non-profit arts organization originally called itself the Fells Point Creative Alliance in order to plant a flag in that particular neighborhood, explained program director Megan Hamilton. “We were really tired of everybody being geography neutral,” she said. “You know like Coke is from nowhere… a lot of arts institutions had a similar feel. We really want to be neighborhood-based.”

The goal was to showcase Baltimore artists while connecting them to the neighborhood. An early effort came with an exhibit of sculptor Ivy Parsons. While Parsons had exhibited all over the country, she was virtually unknown in the neighborhood she had lived in for 20 years.

“So when Ivy showed in our gallery all her artsy friends showed up, but also, you know, like the girl that sold her cheese showed up, and a bunch of people who didn’t usually go to art exhibitions showed up,” Hamilton said.

Creative Alliance took a meandering path through southeast Baltimore before arriving at its current home in Highlandtown’s Patterson Theater in May 2003. While it has moved out of Fells Point, the organization is still committed to the area, Hamilton said. Of the 300 kids Creative Alliance educated in art education programs in 2003, 90 percent of them were from southeast Baltimore.

Hamilton also cited the popularity of an annual community event started in 2000. “When we do the Great Halloween Lantern parade and we make hundreds and hundreds of bamboo paper lanterns and parade them through Patterson Park, the people that show up in the workshops to make the free lanterns are mostly from our neighborhood,” Hamilton said.

Highlandtown is a very diverse, blue-collar area, but the neighbors have embraced Creative Alliance, Hamilton said. In the late 90s the area’s manufacturing jobs were disappearing and real estate prices were depressed. Today, however, real estate prices are up and “there’s a great deal more energy on Eastern Avenue,” Hamilton said.

It has been designated Baltimore’s second official arts district, with many artists moving in. In fact, Creative Alliance has brought in some of its own with a residency program started in 2003.

“It’s maybe not quite as incongruous as people think, just in the sense that Highlandtown and southeast Baltimore is certainly the heartland for a lot of Baltimore’s indigenous folk art forms,” Hamilton explained.

This is where you’ll find formstone and painted screens, she said. “The Polish people have been dyeing Eastern European style wax-resist eggs here forever, so there’s definitely been a folk art base here for many years…There’s actually quite a lot of arts stuff going on around here,” she added.

Reaching out to the neighborhood is important to Creative Alliance, Hamilton said. “Artists have been cool about that. I mean, artists that don’t even live here kind of understand that this is our little laboratory,” she explained. “We know artists want to connect with a community. You’ve got to start somewhere. So were starting here.”

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Transcription of Interview - Linda DePalma

Transcription of Interview - Megan Hamilton