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  December 7, 2016

Following Oakland Fire, Baltimore Evicts Residents of DIY Arts Space

Residents say the Bell Foundry was a safe space for people of color and LGBTQ artists. A GoFundme campaign has raised over $16,000 for evictees.
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DHARNA NOOR, TRNN: I’m standing at the Bell Foundry, a collectively run artist warehouse in the station worth neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland.

This week on Monday, tenants were evicted with less than an hour’s notice from city officials.

SPEAKER: If you guys get what you need for temporarily what you can get in the next 20 minutes and you can come. Obviously they’re going to allow you guys to come back and get the rest of your stuff.

NOOR: This comes in the wake of a tragic fire in Oakland, California at the Ghost Ship Warehouse which left 36 dead.

QUE PEQUENO: Well we’re in the Bell Foundry right now. Going up the stairs. Hey Abby. Hey Nancy.

My name is Que Pequeno and I am a member of the Bell Foundry.

I woke up to the eviction. The fire marshal came saying 2 things. He said that the mayor sent him and he also said that he got a complaint talking about someone said that this place was unsafe.

NOOR: According to the Baltimore Sun, the city has fired housing departments, cited unsafe living conditions, and the lack of a proper use and occupancy permit as the reason for the conviction.

GEORGIA: A lot of us know people in Oakland. Like a lot of us know people who perished in Ghost Ship and we were literally talking about oh we need to get more smoke detectors. It’s good that we have wo stairwells. What can we do to make this a safe place? Fire marshals came in, they looked around, declared the place unsafe, and then were like you need to be out in 20minutes.

NOOR: City officials said that the eviction of the Bell Foundry had nothing to do with the fire in Oakland but residents here seem to have a different idea.

GEORGIA: Well the fire marshals and the police certainly dropped Oakland on us as they were forcing us to leave. Screaming at me about how did we want bodies piled by the door like in Oakland. Like that kind of stuff. So, I don’t know if the city wants to deny that but they certainly didn’t give that memo to their officials the day of.

NOOR: We reached out to the city for a response and the housing authority of Baltimore City said they would look into it and get back to us.

Residents also spoke about the connection they feel to the Bell Foundry and the artist space that it was able to foster.

TARIQ AKA INFINITY KNIVES: I can only speak for now as of the past like year or so but there’s been a lot of folks from the LGBT community and people of color. And I think that’s really cool because there’s not many spaces for people of color, especially DIY spots. I really like it here. I personally would call it a safe haven for sure.

PEQUENO: A lot of people have been in this room. Honestly of course I’m biased but this is the best room in the house. Its very successful because it hasn’t been any truly gentrification but there has been a void filled for like black artists, black musicians such as myself, and what this said was that it’s a place for black artists from Baltimore or touring groups to come here and actually get paid.

NOOR: In both Oakland and Baltimore, residents say that this comes as a part of a larger affordable housing crisis in both cities.

SPEAKER: If this is part of what’s happened with our housing crisis in this state and this is a horrible way for us have to come together.

SPEAKER: They were doing what they love to do the best. Unfortunately, the infrastructure that should be there to protect them, wasn’t.

GEORGIA: Absolutely I mean we see [inaud.] trend in a lot of cities. This is a branded arts district. I can’t say that the Bell Foundry and creative people in this space were not in part doing some of the work of that, by army of presence right. For some people this makes the place attractive. But once it gets past the point of being hospitable to young folks who need lower rent and becomes an attractive neighborhood to real estate developers, then that’s when they force us out. This property I’m sure whether or not this building is condemned it’s right across from the train station.

It’s clear that we’re a fairly privileged group of people in a lot of ways because we have amazing community support. There have been so many offers for places to stay temporarily, rooms opening up, food, support, storage space. You can look around. People are bringing their cars and lots of folks get truly evicted in this city unjustly and do not have the kind of rallying that this space has gotten from its community.

JOE MCNEELY: My wife and I and our partner Jerry [inaud.] are the owners of Bell Foundry. We were committed to making that building a vital part of the station in regards to entertainment district. We have leased the building to two different tenants, one for the Baltimore Rock Opera Society and the other for individual studios. We are working with the tenants who want to come back, to determine what use they want to put to the space and to see that the conditions can be met by a combination of our efforts and their efforts meets the requirements and makes the requirement for the city for those uses.

The city is being very collaborative with their time and expertise but they’re being very adamant about the safety conditions that they require in the building.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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