After nearly 40 years, Baltimore Clayworks is forced to close its doors. The Mt. Washington ceramic arts studio and gallery released a statement on Monday announcing the closure citing “the loss of sale” and lack of funding created a “delicate situation” for the nonprofit despite the fundraising efforts of the arts community to save it.
The organization was forced to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy due to unpaid debts. According to board of directors president Kathy Holt, $200,000 would have prevented them from filing and allowed the doors to remain open. The initial plan was to sell the properties and relocate, but opposition from people who believed that Clayworks should remain in Mt. Washington caused delays and uncertainty forcing the buyer to withdraw and shattering any hopes for the nonprofit to continue.
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“The ‘Community Campaign's’ accrued funds came with a variety of restrictions in order to be disbursed,” Holt said in a statement. “While the administration of that group worked hard to release some of that now, and potentially later, it was not enough, nor in enough time, to stave off bankruptcy.”
Baltimore Clayworks is the only nonprofit in the state solely dedicated to ceramic arts, providing career opportunities and community programming. Since its inception in 1980 and its expansion in 1999, its mission has remained the same: create a place for ceramic artists to develop and sustain their craft, and provide educational programs for the public.
“The problem with clay is that it tends to be addictive,” co-founder Deborah Bedwell told Baltimore in 2010 when she also admitted there was “financial fragility” within the organization. “You have both an emotional and a sensory experience . . . You touch it and you’ve made your mark on it immediately.”
For more than 20 years, the Community Arts program of Baltimore Clayworks has been collaborating with cultural grassroots organizations and schools to provide access to arts programming for underserved communities in the city. The program is committed to providing everyone—children, adults, and seniors—with a positive experience in ceramics. But with the doors of the main campus closing, the future of the programming is unclear.
“The board deeply regrets the outcome for artists, students, and kids who were to attend summer camps,” said Holt. “We are also hopeful we can find a new ‘home’ for the Community Arts program, and are actively engaging with possible organizations that could administrate it.”
Although Mt. Washington is not quite an official Maryland Arts & Entertainment District, Baltimore Clayworks provided a space in the historic neighborhood for artists to create and explore. The Studio building—formally an Enoch Pratt Free Library branch—offered hands-on classes in pottery and sculpting for patrons of all ages as well as exhibitions that showcased national, international, and local artists.
“We understand the impact this will have on the larger arts community,” Holt said. “It is exceedingly painful to those that Clayworks has served. We are all grief-stricken with the result.”