MICA is leasing the 24,000-square-foot building for $1 a year from EBDI and paying for the conversion. The work, designed by Ammon Heisler Sachs Architects, is funded largely by a $1 million gift from the Rouse Co. Foundation and a separate gift from an unidentified MICA trustee.
MICA's project got under way after EBDI's leaders suggested that the college use the former school as a permanent base for its programs in East Baltimore.
"It was the perfect building for us," Lazarus said. "It was the right size. It was close to the East Baltimore community. It was close to Hopkins. … There were a lot of things that made sense."
Allen said he can remember a time, not long ago, when many MICA students spent most of their time on or close to campus, working on individual projects and never exploring much of the surrounding community or doing anything to improve the quality of life for city residents. He calls that being in the "MICA bubble."
While MICA still has plenty of students who come to Baltimore to study sculpture, painting and other traditional subjects, he said, more students now want to work in collaboration with others and pursue careers in art-based community development.
"There's a sea change [in arts education], and we want to be a part of it," he said. "Designers are problem-solvers. We're training activists. … The kids coming here today are socially committed to making the world a better place. … They have a fire in the belly. They really believe in the power of design to change lives."
While graduates might not get rich, he said, jobs are beginning to materialize for community arts specialists, often supported by nonprofit groups. Locally, for example, Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health employs graphic designers to create artwork for public health campaigns.
Fitzgerald, the master's degree candidate, said he hopes to go to Kenya after graduation and start a community arts program between the U.S. and Africa. He said he's enthusiastic about MICA PLACE and what it can do for Baltimore.
"This is a growing niche in the art world," he said. "It could definitely mushroom."