Why Baltimore Clayworks Has a Mortgage

This document was distributed at the February 8, 2017 Community Meeting. Download a PDF here: WhyBaltimoreClayworkshasaMortgage.

WHY Baltimore Clayworks has a Mortgage


Early Days – The former Enoch Pratt Library was closed in the 60’s due to a consolidation move by the Pratt. It served briefly as a primary school annex to Mt. Washington Elementary until the school built an addition. It housed a variety of Board of Education functions until it ceased to have activity in the early 70’s.  It was empty until the Disposition Properties Division of the City put it on the market.

In stacked interviews, 23 business, companies, etc. presented proposals for the purchase and re-use of the building, to a steering committee of 9 people: 3 from the Mt. Washington Merchants’ association, 3 from city planning and 3 from the Mt Washington Improvement Association. Short story – that group chose Baltimore Clayworks Founders to negotiate with Baltimore City HCD to purchase and renovate the building and make it into a community ceramic art center. The founding individuals put up their personal money to make the down payment, in some cases borrowing from family members. They further signed personally (houses, cars, bank accounts) to secure the mortgage and rehab loan on the building. Clayworks opened its doors in 1980.

Twenty years later – Armed with non-profit status, hard work and a stellar international and local reputation, in 1998, Baltimore Clayworks was named “The Millenium Organization”  for year 2000 by the National Endowment of the Arts; a large and highly visible funded mural program took place in the millennial year.  This visibility further encouraged Clayworks to continue its plans to make accessible and expand the studio building, as studio space was cramped and inadequate, and Clayworks was unable to accommodate its waiting lists for classes. Using a real estate consultant, a board committee searched the city and neighboring county seeking to move to a larger site. However, no site could be found to make an even marginally affordable move that would incorporate the gas, soda  and wood-firing kilns that attracted international and other professional-quality artists.

Lost in court: Lost all funding — However, the visibility did bring Clayworks into the scrutiny of disabilities activist, Marilyn Phillips, who sued Clayworks (and other arts organizations) because the historic library building was not fully compliant with the Americans for Disabilities Act.  Baltimore Clayworks went to court and lost. At this point ALL FUNDING FROM THE STATE, REGIONAL AND NATIONAL AGENCIES CEASED, as agencies needed to be compliant with the 504 regulations.  Foundation funding followed suit.

Very quickly, Baltimore Clayworks cut trees on the east side of the building and brought in a “double-wide” modular classroom, and built ramps from the street into the buildings. This was unpopular with the community, but there was no other recourse.  After a 4 month hiatus, Clayworks’ funding resumed and the community and funders gave Clayworks a two-year window to raise capital and start construction.

The board raised $2.8 million cash in 2 years, removed the modular units, secured an architect and a construction company, secured permits and broke ground. At the same time, the programs had to continue. During this period, The St. Paul, our largest corporate donor, gave us Provincial House, currently the Gallery Building. To make it habitable and finish the construction – scaled back in scope  because of the gift — the board (which had 3 CPA’s on it) took out a mortgage. From 2005  when the Studio Building opened and NCECA arrived in Baltimore, through the global recession years of 2008-10,  until 2014 – the last Annual Report that appears on the Clayworks website, there was some additional borrowing, but there was no discussion of selling buildings. The 2014 Annual Report shows that there was sufficient operating income to pay the mortgage monthly.

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