LitMore, growing Literary Arts Center, moves to Hampden

Calling itself “Baltimore’s Center for the Literary Arts,” LitMore is host to a range of events and activities, from daylong writing retreats to writing workshops. At the start of January, LitMore moved from Mt. Washington to Hampden.

LitMore moved from its previous home in Mt. Washington to the Schwing Building in Hampden.
LitMore moved from its previous home in Mt. Washington to the Schwing Building in Hampden.

They moved to the Schwing building, an old car dealership on the 3300 block of Keswick Ave. Make Studio, an organization that provides arts programming to individuals with disabilities, will be using a much of the building. The entire ground floor will be a gallery space for students’ artwork, and the second-floor rooms at the front of the building will be studios.

Julie Fisher, LitMore’s founder, was completely positive about the prospect of sharing the space.

“It’s pretty perfect for us,” Fisher said. “They are here nine to five, and we use the space primarily on evenings and weekends.”

Make Studio, a community arts organization, occupies the ground floor of the Schwing Building.
Make Studio, a community arts organization, occupies the ground floor of the Schwing Building.

The Schwing building was, until last month, beautifully conspicuous and empty. It’s designed to grab attention: two stories, huge display windows around the whole first f loor, and round Art Deco corners. And, located just half a block south of the lights of 34th Street, it’s close to the Avenue but not too close. It’s accessible to the rest of the city, with ample parking 11 months of the year.

In the summer of 2013, her son’s school was getting ready to move into St John’s Church in Mt Washington. When she saw the rectory, an old Victorian house just next to the church, she asked what their plans for it were. The church said they had none; that they had planned on possibly leasing it out.

That’s when she combined forces with Doug Mowbray and Christophe Casamassima, founders of Poetry in Community, and wrote up a proposal for a “center for the literary arts.” When she talked about the proposal part of LitMore’s story, Fisher shook her head and laughed.

Christophe Casamassima, the co-creator of the Community Poetry Library housed in LitMore, with his bookshelf-building buddies.
Christophe Casamassima, the co-creator of the Community Poetry Library housed in LitMore, with his bookshelf-building buddies.

“Talk about putting the cart before the horse,” Fisher said, “The way it happened, we had the space before we even had an organization.”

Still, they had been thinking of such a thing for a while: somewhere writers could come together; somewhere to affordably host readings and book releases; somewhere that non-profits and writers of all sorts could connect with one another.

There are many ways that LitMore connects writers. LitMore’s most basic function is as a space to write. By paying $10 ($5 if you are a member), a writer can spend the day with other writers, writing and drinking the coffee and tea provided. This might sound strange to readers who aren’t writers. However, sitting in a room full of productive writing can inspire many writers to press through dejection. The spaces—of which there are two larger multi-purpose rooms—can also be rented out for writing workshops or other group events. In the future, Fisher hopes to rent the gallery space below for larger events.

Beyond this, LitMore also has groups and organizations that regularly use their space. Dew More Baltimore, which will be leasing a small office space, organizes poetry education in city schools and also runs the youth poetry slam team, which travels all over the country to compete. Baltimore Writing Hour, which happens every Saturday from 11-4, is an open write-in where anyone can come to spend the day writing.

The last room that Fisher showed me is the Community Poetry Library. Doug Mowbray and Christophe Casamassima started this collection back in 2004. The new library will house a growing collection of over three thousand titles, in all sorts of forms (from books, to broadsides, to hand-made items). Eventually, Fisher explained, they hope to begin a collection of Baltimore focused poets, to create a history of Baltimore’s poetry scene.

A little over a year after their founding, as they settle into their new space, Fisher’s hopes do not seem to have lessened. It’s not surprising that, given that the organization is becoming comfortably established in the literary community, financial stability is the largest immediate goal.

“Our biggest hope is to be solvent,” Fisher said. This means continuing to grow a member base, and spreading the word about the venue as an option for literary and non-literary groups alike. Still, though money is clearly vital to run LitMore, Fisher continued to speak about bigger things: about connections that have yet to occur and about visions for further down the road.

“Our overall vision is still centrality,” she explained. She went on to emphasize the importance of a physical space to make centrality a reality, and how important it is in building a well-connected community. It’s so clear, by the way she gazed around the rooms of deconstructed furniture with so much hope and energy, that she really believes LitMore could become one of the hearts of the Baltimore literary arts community.

By the time I left, I was completely on board. I paid my twenty dollars to become a member, and walked the four blocks home, barely feeling the cold. Interested in becoming a member

or seeing upcoming events? Visit www.litmore.org.

 

All photos courtesy of Julie Fisher

Taking the initiative

The Collective’s Baltimore Dance Invitational is in its third year—and it’s just getting started

dancing BDI
Collective Co-Director Jessica Fultz performing in “Stay Tuned.”

 

Dance hasn’t enjoyed much of an infrastructure in Baltimore. The overall community is relatively scattered and isolated with sporadic audience crossover, but there’s a great wealth of passion and commitment, especially from The Collective, Baltimore’s 16-year-old modern dance company that’s about host the third annual Baltimore Dance Invitational.

Established as a non-profit organization in 2001, part of The Collective’s vision is “to connect with and to the local arts community through collaborations with other artists, guest residencies, bi-weekly dance classes, and performance projects.” That last goal— performances projects—couldn’t have a better manifestation than BDI, which The Collective conceptualized and kicked off in 2013. Co-Director Sonia Synkoski took the time to answer a few questions from the Post.

UB Post: How was BDI created?What was the creation process like?

Sonia Synkowski: BDI was created through collaborative conversations with the company. The Collective has always annually produced an informal showcase event called Open Marley Night. In more recent years, that event started to feel more formal (polished work, fully produced) than informal with in-progress work. That realization lead to the suggestion that we create a new showcase event for work that was fully produced and would benefit from a showcase performance. The Baltimore Dance Invitational was born. The idea was to create multiple dance events for artists/community under the label of “The Baltimore Dance Invitational”—like a mini- festival. In the past two years that included workshops, Open Marley Night, a professional showcase, two dance concerts, and meet-the-artist receptions that spanned four days. This year, we are doing a community workshop, a professional dance showcase, and a meet-the-artist reception all on one day.

Collective member Adrienne Kraus Latanishen performing in “Growl.”
Collective member Adrienne Kraus Latanishen performing in “Growl.”

UBP: How is it funded?

SS: We have had a different funding source every year. Artists have always been paid for their participation in the professional showcase. Funding has been essential to ensuring that the artists are compensated. We are thankful for support received to make this event a success.

In year one we got started with help from the William G. Baker Fund. In year two we launched a successful Kickstarter project. This year we received funding from the Baltimore County Commission on Arts and Sciences.

UBP: Where do you see BDI in three years? Five? Ten?

SS: Interest has grown every year so I don’t see the event going away anytime soon. This year we moved BDI to a new venue. In three to five years, I would like to continue to see BDI as a staple annual regional festival with more expanded workshop offerings. In 10+ years, I would like to see BDI as a national festival/conference that ties the community and the professional artist together through workshops/ learning experiences/participatory events/dance.

Collective members Martha Johnston and Rachel Wolfe performing in “Static: If I, Then We?”
Collective members Martha Johnston and Rachel Wolfe performing in “Static: If I, Then We?”

For more information and to see the Invitation’s schedule, head over to http://www.collective-dance.com.

All images courtesy of Matt Roth