Artists-tenants at the Post Office Garage studios are being given two more days to remove their belongings from the now condemned building, Kathleen Byrne, a code enforcement lawyer for the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development, told The Baltimore Beat over email.
“It is never the City’s desire to displace tenants without ample warning, particularly during cold weather,” Byrne writes. “We absolutely sympathize with the artists who work there, and we immediately began working on some remedies that we hope will help.”
On Monday, Fire Department officials issued a “temporary evacuation” of the building at 439 E. Preston St. after artists called about a busted pipe. Officials cited the lack of water in the sprinkler system, missing information about the date it was last serviced, standing water in the building with electrical cords running through it, and “large metal grates not attached properly to the ceiling and bowing walls.”
The problems identified, Byrne says, were deemed an “imminent threat to life and safety.”
After observing “severe stress cracks in the front exterior wall,” a building inspector posted an “emergency condemnation and demolition notice,” and the building’s artists were sent scrambling for their cars and given until 5 p.m. to get out. Amy Bonitz, president of Baltimore Arts Realty Corporation (BARCO) and chair of the codes and regulations work group of the Mayor’s Safe Arts Space Task Force, lobbied the DHCD to give the artists more time to retrieve their belongings. The DHCD granted the artists a two-day window at a time to be scheduled later.
“I’m hearing a million different stories from all of the artists who are on site about all the different things that they think are happening,” says artist Marian Glebes, who was on hand Monday, helping artists pack up and move their belongings. “A lot of the conversation was people not knowing where they could go, or when they could get a studio again.”
Since November, Glebes has worked with Bonitz as the art space technical assistance program coordinator for BARCO. Her job is a manifestation of the goal of the task force, which was to act as a liaison between the city and artists working in vulnerable spaces—and to avoid kicking artists out of their spaces when the code issues are non-life-threatening.
On Monday, artists at the Post Office Garage were confused about when they’d be able to return—if ever. As the Beat observed, the situation was not unlike the shuttering of the Bell Foundry: a building deemed unsafe and the artists that used it quickly kicked out with little information provided in the middle of winter.
“This action taken by Fire is a temporary evacuation to protect the public until we can make sure the building is safe to occupy, not an eviction,” Byrne wrote. “This kind of action is standard procedure when buildings are deemed to be in this type of condition. In other words, our choices were to get people out as quickly as possible to keep them safe, or give them more time to evacuate and risk lives.”
Glebes says that some of the harm in a crisis does comes down to “good intentions but miscommunicated impact,” adding, “there needs to be a clear answer . . . a lot of the story, when you’re experiencing a traumatic event, [is] not clear.”
An evacuation can seem like an eviction.
“One of the things that folds into that is the kind of constant disconnect or mistrust between an arts constituency and a non-arts constituency, and the different languages that can come into play there,” Glebes says, adding, “we need some sort of formal liason on the artists’ side.”
For now, Baltimore’s artists have stepped up to help out.
“There’s been an outpouring of individuals volunteering space for the artists,” Glebes says.