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Community Spotlight: Merina Casa

Clayworks is excited to roll out a new “Community Spotlight” series of written blog posts by members of our community. During this period of isolation, we hope these posts can spread joy, introduce you to some of the people that make Clayworks amazing, and help you #claypositive. We are kicking off this series with members of our staff – first up is Merina Casa, Baltimore Clayworks’ Development Associate.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for ceramics, mostly because of my mother, who is a fearless and talented woman. When I was growing up, she tried almost every craft you can think of: painting, drawing, glass blowing, carpentry, upholstery, metal sculpture, ceramics, to name just a few. Trust me, there were more. Ceramics was one my mom stuck with for a long time, and she was great at it.

My mom was a large part of the reason why I wanted to become a part of Baltimore Clayworks. She had to stop working on pottery after getting shoulder surgery when I was in college, but she still loves and appreciates ceramics.

Throughout my life, I’ve always been artist-adjacent, never really feeling like I could claim the title. I’ve dabbled in a few art forms, printmaking, drawing, painting, but nothing that I felt like I had ownership of. I think I was deterred, and possibly jealous, of my mom’s innate talent in all things creative.

I had worked at Clayworks for a few months before I was ready to take a class. I’d gone through a bad breakup in the Spring, and I was finally feeling like myself at the start of the Fall session, so I figured I’d give it a try. I knew I wanted to take Sam’s class, I’d always loved his planters, and anyone who knows me can tell you that I am obsessed with houseplants.

One of the first thing Sam tells you is to “DANCE AROUND THE POT! YOU BECOME THE WHEEL!” in his charming, and at times, intimidating Jamaican accent. You watch him mold a perfect cylindrical pot in a matter of minutes while dancing around and around a couple of stacked buckets and bats. It’s almost hypnotizing, and very calming.

For three hours, things just melt away when you shuffle around those stacked buckets. I haven’t made anything groundbreaking, and probably won’t, but I’m enjoying learning about this medium. I feel closer to my mom when I send her photos of what I did in class each week. I’ve learned so much about all the things that clay can do, and how many possibilities come from each piece.

I’ve done a lot of self-exploration in the past year, and I think ceramics has helped me find confidence in new ways that I needed. Being around all the wonderful artists at Clayworks made me realize that these are my people, and I am indeed an artist. Lofty title included.

During these weird covid-19 times, I’m still dancing around pots, this time with Lizzo as a soundtrack (highly recommend). On the other hand, I have also found it incredibly difficult to motivate myself right now. I start projects with great energy and enthusiasm and lose steam halfway through. I’m sure I’m not the only one with that problem. I am the most and least inspired I have ever been. My house is cleaner than it’s ever been, though.

I miss my studio friends, my coworkers, watching people drive the wrong direction down Smith Avenue from the Gallery building. I know we’ll be back to work at some point, whenever that may be, I hope it’s soon. Sending lots of love and light to everyone reading this. Thanks for listening.”

x Merina Casa

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April Letter from the Executive Director

Hello Friends,

How are you? I’m oscillating between some weird transcendental bliss and extreme panic, while being constantly mauled by a rambunctious three year old who I recently lost a bet with and now my hair doesn’t look so good.

I think most of you know that Baltimore Clayworks’ physical locations are closed for a bit, as are our partner sites throughout the city.

You’re probably familiar with our mission statement, which is very based in the experience and joy of clay.

But if you zoom (no pun intended) out from there, as a community based non-profit, our entire job is to make sure that you feel inspired, supported, connected, and heard.

We are working hard on generating more content for social media and our website.

So here are my questions. What do you need right now? And what can we do? How can we help? We still have staff working and you can find all of our email information here.

We would love to hear from you. Please.

Cyndi Wish, Baltimore Clayworks’ Executive Director

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Relief Resources for Artists

Baltimore Clayworks is thankful for our teachers, artists, and creatives. We want to be there for you all as much as possible during these challenging times, in the small ways that we can. Below you will find numerous resources for grant funding for artists. We will continue to update this list as we find more. Thank you for all that you do! We would not get through these times if it wasn’t for the creative expression of artists.


MSAC Emergency Grants for Artists and Art Organizations

MSAC State of Emergency Resources

GBCA List of Resources

BOPA Baltimore Artist Emergency Relief Fund

CERF+ Artist Relief

Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grants

Artist Fellowship *For Immediate Medical Needs*

Teaching Artists Guild Covid-19 Resources

Americans for the Arts Resources

Creative Capitol List of Resources

Resources for Freelance Artists

Hyperallergic Opportunites for Artists in April 2020




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Updates on COVID-19 preparedness

March 16th, 2020

Dear Friends:

The health and safety of our community is our top priority. Baltimore Clayworks will be closed to the public until further notice. To the best of our ability, we will continue to serve our community and our mission by sharing the joy of clay on our social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) and website.

Many of our staff are working remotely, and can be reached via email. Find staff contact information and some cute photos here. General questions? Please email info@baltimoreclayworks.org.

We invite our supporters to consider making a donation to Baltimore Clayworks during this uncertain time. Or if you were enrolled in our spring semester, if you can, please consider turning your tuition into a donation, or requesting class credit rather than a refund.

We are working hard to update our online shop to include amazing work by the talented artists who were scheduled to participate in our NCECA Expo, and plan to continue fulfilling online orders. Early holiday shopping? Retail therapy? We are here for you.

Thank you for your understanding and for your continued support of Baltimore Clayworks.


Marcy Emmer, Board President, and Cyndi Wish, Executive Director

March 13th, 2020

Dear Members of the Baltimore Clayworks Community:

Baltimore Clayworks’ Spring 2020 classes and events will be postponed beginning March 12th, pending further recommendations from the Maryland Department of Health, the Maryland Department of Education, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We feel it is in your best interest and health to follow through with state recommendations to reduce contact in an effort to limit risk for the continued spread of COVID-19.

if you are a Springboard, Mezzanine, or Resident Artist and have any questions, please contact Kevin Rhode. If you are a currently enrolled student or Open Studio registrant and have questions, please contact Matt Hyleck.

Baltimore Clayworks’ galleries and shop will remain open Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00am-5:00pm, where we are taking all recommended precautions to ensure your safety

We look to resume all spring programming in April, once public health officials provide further clarity as it relates to public spaces and gatherings.
Until then, please follow us on social media, visit our online shop, and stay safe.
Baltimore Clayworks
March 12th, 2020

Updates on upcoming March events:

Your health and safety are our top priority. Out of precaution, our Flora and Fauna exhibitions reception and artist talk, scheduled for this Saturday, March 14th from 6-9pm, has been cancelled. Instead, join us online for an artist talk with Eliza Au via Facebook Live and Instagram Live this Saturday, March 14th, at 5pm. Our Flora and Fauna exhibitions are still open to the public, so stop in any day to check them out. We are open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am-5pm.

NCECA recently shared the disappointing news that this year’s conference in Richmond, VA has been cancelled. We at Baltimore Clayworks believe this is the right decision, and we offer our condolences, gratitude, and support to everyone at the helm of the awesome organization. Please help us thank NCECA for all they do, and for making this incredibly hard decision in our community’s best interest.
We were planning on participating in the conference in multiple ways, including: the retail Expo, an exhibition in the conference center, and a resource table. We will be working with NCECA to figure out the next steps moving forward, and have decided to move the amazing artwork that would have been in our Expo booth, to our online shop. We will let everyone know as soon as things are up and available, so keep your eyes on our website and social media.

March 10th, 2020

Dear Members of the Baltimore Clayworks Community:

As we prepare for the start of spring session this week, and the opening of our newest exhibition this weekend, the health and safety of our community is our top concern.
We are closely monitoring the potential impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak and following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Baltimore City Health Department, and Maryland Department of Health. Rest assured that we are taking precautions to provide a safe and healthy environment.

At Baltimore Clayworks we are taking the following actions:

  • Eliminating all communal towels in sink areas to reduce shared contact points – all students must bring their own towels.
  • Installing several new handwashing stations.
  • Disinfecting surfaces daily.
  • Staff, students, faculty, artists, and visitors who are sick or have potentially come in contact with the virus are being told to stay home. (You can still visit our online shop!)

The following are recommendations for personal vigilance to ensure minimal contact with potentially ill individuals, based on health and safety guidelines established by public health officials:

  • Practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available. We are currently installing 5 additional soap dispensers at each of our studio sink areas.
  • When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. You can also cough or sneeze into your sleeve. Throw used tissues in the trash and immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid sharing drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, dishes, towels or other items. Wash these items thoroughly with soap and water after use.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick whenever possible.

We will keep you updated as things progress.
Thank you. Be well and we hope to see you soon.

Baltimore Clayworks

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Baltimore Clayworks Welcomes New Board President

In January of 2020, Baltimore Clayworks elected a new Board President, long-time Mt Washington resident, Marcy Emmer. Marcy’s term follows the incredible leadership of the previous President, Susan Patz, who saw Baltimore Clayworks through very turbulent times for the organization, helped it stabilize, and set it on the path to growth. Susan Patz will remain on the Board, and involved with Baltimore Clayworks, and the organization is very grateful for her term of leadership.

We sat down with Marcy to chat and get to know her. Here is our interview:

BCW: As our new board president, I thought I would go through and learn a little about you, your history with Clayworks, and some things you’re looking forward to. First off, will you tell me a little about yourself?

ME: Sure. I was born about a mile and a half from here, on a little street in Oakshire, and Mt. Washington has always been home. My father was in politics, so at a very early age I would go around canvassing, and saying things like “Vote for my Daddy” – which I’m sure got him elected. When I was 7 or 8, my mother drove me down to Center Stage (which was on North Ave at that time) and I got really involved with theater. I was with Center Stage Young Workshop until I was about 13. I then went to the Baltimore Experimental High School, which is no longer here. Had the School for the Arts been here when I was ready for high school, I believe that’s where I would have gone. I think that the Experimental School saved me. Actually, one of the reasons that I care so much, is because art saved me. Had I not been involved in the theater, I most likely would not be sitting here today. As dramatic as it sounds, it’s true. A lot of the people that I spent time with are no longer here due to drugs, etc.

In high school I studied Dramatic Literature, and English Literature, and Drama. Then I went to Towson State while I was still in high school because we had the College in Escrow Program, and I fell in love with the theater program. I was supposed to go to College at Emerson in Boston, but I got scared. So instead I went to Towson State and I was a Theater and Psychology major.

BCW: What did you do after school?

ME: I worked with a psychiatric day treatment center for a while, where I just taught drama classes, which was really therapeutic. The reason that I love both psychology and theater is because I’m always interested in what motivates people. On stage, I’m trying to understand the character’s motivation. Then, I got married very young, at 20, and had 3 children. I was an “at-home” mom, but I actually did a film too when the children were young. It was called Stage Fright and although it was not picked-up, it did play at the Berlin Film Festival, and there was a write-up in Variety Magazine. Then, I started my own afterschool program when my children were at Mt. Washington Elementary because there was no art – the arts were scarce. So, I started a company called For Creative Kids with my friend Sherry Levine. I was the Creative Director and she was the Financial Director. We were in many schools – we did city and parochial schools. We also had a program where we hired graduate students from MICA, Peabody, or Towson to teach kids. Also, I’ll mention, when I was a student and ditched school, I would go to the BMA, where I ended up becoming a docent for 18 years.

BCW: How did you get involved with Baltimore Clayworks?

ME: Well, I went to Pre-School in the Studio Building, and my mother even remembers voting for Kennedy there too, so, structurally, the building was always a familiar place. My dear friend Marlene, who was one of the founders of Baltimore Clayworks, and I have children the same age, and our children grew up together. I would come to Clayworks’ events with her – never thinking that I wanted to throw. But, I had started collecting Sonya Meeker’s pottery very young, and always had an appreciation for art.

To fast forward, now I’m 61 and I’ve been taking classes for 4 or so years. About 10 years ago, I moved back to Mt. Washington and Marlene and I would come to Clayworks. Bianka Groves was my first teacher, and then Lynne Molner. But, I couldn’t do it. Which is interesting to me. Typically if I can’t do something, I’ll get frustrated and give it up. But, for some reason, I’m sticking with it (clay), and it’s been 4 or 5 years. I can just barley do it, but I’m sticking with it.

BCW: How did you start getting involved with Clayworks’ Board of Trustees?

ME: There was a Community Meeting a few years ago, and at it the previous Board’s real estate agent spoke. Well, in class I was very shy, but here I spoke up. I get real estate because that’s what my husband does. So, I understood what they were saying, so I stood up and started asking questions. I remember afterwards Deb Bedwell called me and asked “Who is this person? Who is this powerful woman?” And I said “They are not going to do anything in my house.” I felt ownership then, and I felt that what the previous Board was doing was wrong. I wasn’t in the “Sisters of Resistance,” but I feel like I was their foster child. I was there on the side-lines making recommendations. So that’s how I became involved: I was learning clay, hanging out with people here that I just adored, and I felt so together with these people. Then they (the previous Board) came along and said “No.” And I said “Whoa, not no. That’s not fair.” So I started to get involved in a political way, which was also very comfortable.

BCW: What is one of your favorite memories associated with Clayworks?

ME: I don’t know if Sam Wallace will remember this, but one of my favorite memories was early on, probably in my first class. I was alone, trying to center my clay, and I don’t know if Sam saw me from upstairs in his studio or what. I did not really know who Sam was at that time, but he came downstairs, and he put his hands on top of mine like a bird, to show me how to center. I will never forget that. The way I feel about Sam is not hidden – I love Sam, and I always try to take one of his classes. But that is my favorite memory: someone from up above came down and showed me what to do.

BCW: Speaking of Sam, what is your favorite Sam Wallace quote?

ME: “It’s just clay. It’ll be alright.” And then after he says that you all want to go into song.

BCW: As our new Board President, what are you looking forward to in the next year? In the next five years?

ME: I’ve thought about this, and I would love to see our campus bustling with people. I want people to come here and take classes. I want people to say, when you come to Baltimore: “Did you visit the BMA? Did you visit the Walters? Did you visit Clayworks?” I really want to put us up there. My pipe-dream would be to get accredited, so we can give credit for college courses. Also, I want a Clay-Mobile. I’m so serious. I want us to get a vehicle, to paint it, and to go out to different neighborhoods in the city and show them clay. I want Clayworks to keep on going, and for more people to discover us.

BCW: Is there anything else you’d like to say to either Clayworks or the Mt. Washington community?

ME: Mt. Washington, you need to support Clayworks because it is an anchor in our village and our village it not thriving. We need our people to come down to Clayworks, take a class, have your children take a class, buy a mug… When you need a gift, I want you to think of Clayworks first. And after you come buy a gift, go around the corner and buy some lunch.

BCW: Great. Thank you for talking with me today, Marcy.

You’re welcome.

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Welcome Kelly, our new UAL Fellow

Baltimore Clayworks is proud to be a UAL Fellow host organization once again this year. The Urban Arts Leadership (UAL) fellowship is a program of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (GBCA), and is designed to increase diversity in the management of cultural and artistic organizations by building a pipeline for high achieving emerging leaders, focusing on those of color.

We are excited to welcome Kelly Palmer to Clayworks as our 2020 UAL Fellow. Kelly is a graduating senior at Coppin State University, majoring in Arts Administration with a minor in Nonprofit Leadership and Youth Development. In the future she plans to manage her own nonprofit devoted to mentoring youth. She is an advocate for cultural groups and the representation of black artists. Her mission is to create a legacy for generations to utilize for many years to come. The influence of the arts in addition to the need for an impactful leader in our community is what motivates her to pursue her goal of leading a successful arts sector in our community.

Please join us in welcoming Kelly to the Clayworks community!


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