Clark to be tower's first tenant

Architecture Column

November 19, 2007|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun architecture critic

A local photographer and professor of fine art at Coppin State University will be the first artist to occupy a studio in Baltimore's newly renovated Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower.

And she won't have to pay rent for the privilege.

Linda Day Clark, a 44-year-old Reservoir Hill resident and 1994 graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, has been named the first winner of the C. Sylvia and Eddie C. Brown Studio Competition.

Clark will receive a lease for a 360-square-foot studio on the second floor of the historic Bromo-Seltzer tower, rent-free for two years. She was chosen from among 20 applicants who competed for the space.

"I love it -- the light, the windows. I'll probably have every wall covered," Clark said after visiting the studio last week. Plus, "free is wonderful. It's 100 percent more than I had before. ... It will be good to be there with all the other artists."

Clark's lease begins Dec. 1 and makes her the first tenant named to move into the tower. It has been converted during the past year to a vertical artists' colony with space for 33 artists plus two galleries and a coffee shop. Additional artists are expected to move in next month and throughout the winter.

Modeled after a 13th-century stone watch tower in Florence, Italy, the building at 21 S. Eutaw St. was designed by Joseph Evans Sperry and constructed by Capt. Isaac Emerson in 1911 as part of the factory that made Bromo Seltzer, a headache and indigestion remedy. Each floor is 30 feet by 30 feet.

After the Bromo Seltzer business left Maryland in the 1960s, the 15-story tower was donated to the city. For more than two decades, it was home to the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture. After that agency merged with the Office of Promotion and moved to Redwood Street, the head of the combined agency, Bill Gilmore, pursued a plan to renovate the building and fill it with artists as an anchor for revitalization efforts on the west side of downtown.

The tower is now owned by Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower LLC, with the Browns, philanthropists and arts patrons, as the "investor partners" and the Office of Promotion & the Arts as the managing partner. The restoration cost $1.25 million. The Browns made a separate donation so one studio can be occupied free of charge. The prize is worth $24,000, based on a rental rate of $1,000 a month for two years.

The arts agency is in the final stages of reviewing applications and selecting other visual artists and writers to fill the remaining studios, at prices from $400 to $1,500 a month.

Born in Fort Knox, Ky., Clark moved to Maryland in the 1990s for college and is married to a photographer, Carl Clark. An artist whose work has been exhibited around the country, she said she works out of her home at present and wanted a separate space where she can take photographs, print them, hang them up and evaluate them. Her medium is digital photography, which means she won't need a darkroom in the tower.

Clark's subject matter is often people, from North Avenue in Baltimore to Nigeria to Gee's Bend, Ala. She said in her application for the studio that she is "driven to make works that are socially significant -- works that impact society."

She said she is grateful to the Browns for making the arts tower a reality and setting aside the free studio. "I can't applaud them enough for what they have done for Baltimore and what they have done for the arts in general," she said

Schamu Machowski Greco is the architect for the tower conversion. Azola & Associates is the general contractor. Artists cannot live in the studios, but will be allowed to work there around the clock. Other applicants for the free studio ranged from a watercolorist to a collage artist to a sculptor who works with twigs and other found materials.

The judges selected Clark because they thought she would benefit from being in the tower and would be a good influence on other artists there, said Randi Vega, director of cultural affairs for the Office of Promotion & the Arts.

They felt that the award "would have a positive impact on her career and would set the tone for the building and for the future of the artist community that will be moving in," Vega said.

Clark said the west side of downtown Baltimore may end up giving her ideas for photographs. "It's a whole new area to think about, photographically."

But she worries that the Bromo-Seltzer tower may be too close to Lexington Market, with its wide array of food vendors. "I think I'll gain 10 pounds just inhaling the wonderful smells," she said.

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