Baltimore Clayworks Set to Reopen in October

(Photo by David Stuck)

Baltimore Clayworks, which closed this past summer, is scheduled to reopen soon under a new leadership team that hopes to maintain the home-away-from-home atmosphere that customers and artists alike cherished at the ceramics arts center.

The 37-year-old Mount Washington-based nonprofit suspended operations in July and announced plans to file for bankruptcy amid mounting financial debt. The Clayworks board of trustees, however, never followed through with the bankruptcy and continued negotiations with leaders from the grassroots group Clayworks Community Campaign that sought to keep the doors open.

On Monday, the board agreed to resign and make way for a new coalition of leaders that aims to resume operations at Clayworks next month, according to a document obtained by the JT.

“This year was an arduous and often painful journey for all who care about Clayworks,” Susan Patz, one of the campaign organizers and a member of the new board, said in a prepared statement. “Today we are in position to welcome back the large community and to assure everyone that Baltimore Clayworks has turned the page and is indeed alive again.”

The decision ends an eight-month standoff between the board of trustees and Clayworks Community Campaign that became as heated as the kilns that had fired regularly at Clayworks.

According to the document, the organization expects to have at least one of the two buildings on Smith Avenue that houses Clayworks up and functioning in October. At that point, a new executive director, corporate officers and a long-term organizational vision should be in place.

Tensions escalated when the board of trustees announced a plan last winter to sell the two buildings to pay off a debt of about $1 million. The proceeds generated from the sale would have been used to fund a relocation to one of the city’s three arts districts.

In response, opposition from artists, teachers, students, patrons and others led to the formation of the Clayworks Community Campaign to block, or at least delay, any move.

Those efforts were rewarded when a $3.7 million deal fell through for Clayworks to sell its two buildings to Itineris, a Baltimore nonprofit that provides job training for adults with autism. The board moved to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which would have resulted in liquidation. At the time of the closing, artists, teachers and patrons were given little notice to collect their work.

Shortly after, interim executive director Devon Powell and board president Kathy Holt stepped down, further complicating the direction of the organization.

Now, the new board has inherited the organization’s debt, and officials are working diligently to come up with a plan to make Clayworks financially solvent for years to come.

Marsha Smelkinson, an organizer of the Clayworks Community Campaign and a new board member, said more than $350,000 has been raised in pledges and donations to restart operations. The money will be used to help pay down the debt and rehire former staff and personnel.

The new board consists of 15 members and includes elected officials who represent the Mount Washington area, attorneys, business executives and ceramics experts.

Officials expect to announce more specifics surrounding reopening date and schedule of programs starting next week, according to the document. A public meeting is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 11 in the Parish Hall at the Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., when board members will answer questions from community members.

This story has been updated.

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