Artists' haven prepares to rise from ashes

September 26, 1995|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

The owner of the Clipper Industrial Park in North Baltimore said he would begin rebuilding today, giving hope to nearly two dozen artists displaced by an eight-alarm fire there Sept. 16.

"We are ready to start," said William D. Poloway, adding that he hoped to accommodate some of the artists temporarily in vacant buildings on the sprawling former foundry site in Woodberry.

"When we rebuild, our tenant rent base will be at the $2 to $3 a square foot level," said Mr. Poloway, adding that it is a low rate.

He said the Clipper City Rock Gym, an artificial rock climbing facility and a major tenant at the site, wants to rebuild in one of the largest of the old foundry's structures, an 1890 steel fabricating shop.

Some 20 artists displaced by the Clipper Industrial Park fire met with a state task force last night at the Maryland Institute, College of Art and discussed ways of finding new work space, financial assistance and insurance.

A Baltimore firefighter died in the fire and 17 others were injured. The fire also left nearly two dozen professional artists without a place to work and without equipment.

To help the artists, Gov. Parris N. Glendening last week established the Clipper Mill Task Force and it met with artists for the first time last night.

Task force members represent the state Department of Business and Economic Development, the Hampden Merchants Association, the Baltimore Development Corp., the Maryland Institute, College of Art, the State Arts Council, the Maryland Art Place, the Maryland Small Business Development Centers and the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Several offers for rental space for the artists have been received, including space in the Raleigh Industrial Center at Wicomico and Ostend streets in the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood of Pigtown. Edward L. Birtic, owner of a vacantformer machine shop at Heath and Clarkson streets in South Baltimore, also offered free space to artists "just the way it is." He said he had 60,000 to 70,000 square feet available.

"It's basically a shell," Mr. Birtic said. "They'd have a roof over their heads. There is no heat."

Other spaces have been offered in Charles Village and Fells Point.

The artists said they appreciate the offers of space, but most of them prefer to stay in Hampden-Woodberry.

The task force also discussed the possibility of offering loans to help the artists purchase new equipment.

State Del. James W. Campbell, a Democrat who represents Hampden, praised efforts to help.

"What a strong response on the part of the governor and mayor," Mr. Campbell observed.

"I think this is especially great on the mayor's part because he didn't pull too well in the last election there," he said, referring to Hampden-Woodberry voters.

Mr. Campbell said he was alerted to the needs of the artists by potter Norma Wallis, who wanted to have the Clipper Industrial Park declared a "disaster area."

He responded that that was not possible, but the task force was established to coordinate relief efforts for the artists.

"Everybody needs cash right now. People have no income," Mrs. Wallis said last night.

"We were hoping some corporation like Black and Decker might donate some tools we need."

Tex Andrews, director of the Maryland Art Place gallery in Baltimore, said:

"It is encouraging to all the arts groups in the state that the state takes an interest."

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