In July, a colorful shovel, decorated in purple, teal, and gold, hit the dirt at the empty lot across from Highlandtown’s Creative Alliance. It was a long time coming. The beloved arts nonprofit bought the building that used to be on the southwest corner of Eastern Avenue and South East Avenue six years ago, then razed the former bar.
Now, work is finally beginning on what will become the Creativity Center, a new Creative Alliance space that will expand both the organization’s footprint and community impact.
The center, which is slated to open in the fall of 2022, will include a number of new spaces and opportunities for cultural learning. A 1,000-square-foot professional dance studio, professional teaching kitchen, and several new classrooms will give all ages access to expanded resources, in addition to the classes, performances, and exhibitions available across the street in the Patterson Theater building.
“That’s going to be the great thing about the Creativity Center—just the facilities for more cross-disciplinary learning,” says Margaret Footner, founding executive director of Creative Alliance, now in its 27th year. “We work with our neighborhood artists and leaders to develop and produce community events. That’s really been a big part of what we see as the future of the Creativity Center, having more space for those projects and for the community to make some things happen.”
Renderings from project architects Quinn Evans envision an airy, welcoming space full of large windows, with passersby able to see all the action inside from the street. With the Creativity Center on one side of Eastern Avenue and Creative Alliance on the other, the buildings will act as a sort of gateway to the cultural heart of Highlandtown and give both residents and visitors ample opportunities to experience the varied traditions and arts practices that can be found throughout the neighborhood.
“There’s just a ton of vibrancy,” says Footner. “The arts have been an important part of the redevelopment of Southeast Baltimore in terms of evolving as a really multicultural and diverse neighborhood. And that’s been done with intention by all the community groups.”
“OUR MISSION IS ABOUT BRIDGING DIFFERENCES. . . BROADENING COMMUNITY THROUGH THE ARTS.”
While the organization hoped to have the Creativity Center up and running this fall, like most things, its plans were thrown off course by the pandemic. But, as one might expect from a group with “creative” in their name, organizers used the time to plan and develop new ways to reach the community virtually. And lessons learned over the past year will help inform their accessibility moving forward.
“It gave the staff some time to really think more about our own programming,” says Footner. “During the pandemic, we changed to more online programming, and I think there’s going to be carry-over from that in terms of opportunities for online education and experiences. Our mission is about bridging differences, generating community, and broadening community through the arts. That online reach will be really interesting in the future.”
Whether experienced through hands-on learning or streamed performances, the Creativity Center will give visitors the chance to enjoy an expanded range of arts opportunities, such as African dance, embroidery, batik, costume design, puppetry, storytelling, and vocal lessons. The professional kitchen will also make the center the perfect place to host community dinners and bring neighbors together to share their culinary traditions.
“It’s so important, with globalization and the amount of movement and immigration and social change the world is in, that we have organizations like the Creative Alliance that are intentionally working to connect different kinds of people to build understanding,” Footner says. “The arts are a great way to do that.”