Khadija Adell

2018 Baltimore Artist Retreat

Khadija Adell
Khadija Adell

2018 Baltimore Artist Retreat

Khadija Adell

Above image: Photo of the “Awards, Residencies, + Fellowships,” a conversation featuring awardees Wendel Patrick, Elissa Blount Moorhead, Paul Rucker, and administrators George Scheer (Elsewhere) and Deana Haggag (President + CEO of United States Artist), moderated by artist and educator Joyce Yu-Jean Lee. Photo by Shan Wallace.

The 2018 Baltimore Artist Retreat is an intentional space for 40 Baltimore based artists to connect with one another, and a dozen national and regional arts consultants including critics, curators, gallerists, and collectors, for two days of intensive professional development--all in an effort to expand and deepen networks, opportunities, and practices.

This retreat is inspired by our belief in the power of artists as change-makers, and we were excited to have had the opportunity to create a space for the sharing of skills, resources, and ideas that contribute to the success and sustainability of artists in our city.

All images by Shan Wallace.

The 2018 Baltimore Artist Retreat is an unfolding case study in potentiality for the role of artists and funders in hyperlocal arts communities and cultural institutions.  

Before reflecting and attempting to make meaning out of this two and a half day event, considering the context in which it was produced is critical. In 2013 and 2014, Deutsch Foundation President Jane Brown and former Executive Director of The Contemporary, Deana Haggag participated in the Creative Capital Retreat, a 3-day intensive event at Williams College in western Massachusetts for recent Creative Capital grantees. This national gathering delivers highly curated professional development and networking opportunities for the 85-90 presenting artists with over 300 curators, presenters, funders, publishers, and arts organizers in attendance.  Based on that powerful experience, The Contemporary decided to produce a scaled-down hyperlocal version of the Creative Capital Retreat.

In early August  2016, the TC Artist Retreat connected 50 Baltimore-based artists to each other and more than 25 national arts consultants at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Baltimore County. The 2016 TC Artist Retreat was supported financially by the Robert W Deutsch Foundation and the New York based Surdna Foundation and for the first time, gave Baltimore-based artists the time, space, and support - at no cost - to think strategically about their arts practice and how to sustain it.  

When The Contemporary began to scale back its operations in 2017, the Deutsch Foundation met with remaining members of the board to discuss and deliberate about the future of the retreat. All agreed that the 2016 retreat experience was extremely valuable and important for Baltimore-based artists, and with dedicated administrative support in place, the retreat could and should happen again in 2018.

Each of the key organizers of this year’s retreat participated in the 2016 TC Artist Retreat; Jessica Solomon as a consultant, Khadija Adell as an artist, and  Deutsch Foundation president Jane Brown as a funding partner. It was at the 2016 retreat over dinner where Jessica and Jane met; just one example of an exponential connection made at the gathering. Two years later, we can point to multiple new collaborations, public arts initiatives and grant awardees that grew out of connections made there. It was clear  from the beginning that the Artist Retreat was poised to be a major contributor to Baltimore’s cultural ecosystem.

It was with that system-level thinking and personal knowing that we began setting the vision for the 2018 Baltimore Artist Retreat.

The Vision

The 2018 Baltimore Artist retreat was imagined to be a three day event featuring 40 Baltimore-based artists and 15 national arts consultants creatively conspiring in service to making connections, deepening networks, and expanding professional opportunities, and arts practices in Baltimore's arts community. Designed and produced by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, with additional investment by the T. Rowe Price Foundation, the retreat was free for all selected artists.

The Process

Our application launched in April 2018, encouraging artists working in literary, visual, performing, and sound arts to apply for the weekend long retreat. We received an overwhelming response to participate in this opportunity: 183 applications for 40 slots. This data illuminated the very real need for more professional development opportunities for all Baltimore artists.  Our selection process was stewarded by a jury of Baltimore-based artists from a variety of disciplines, all of whom had participated in The Contemporary’s 2016 Artist Retreat - that through-line was important to us.

Participating artists were selected to attend the retreat based on having (1) an interest in expanding their artistic networks; (2) a need to access professional development resources; (3) a desire to share their practice with a broader audience; (4) and a demonstrated commitment to Baltimore’s arts community. The jury used descriptors such as ‘stickiness’, ‘generosity’, ‘collaboration’, ‘experimentation’, ‘rigor’, and ‘presence’ as key focal points to guide their evaluation of candidates. The jury also used an equity lens to ensure that  factors relating to applicant’s age, race, experience, discipline, career level, institutional affiliations, and formal/informal education were balanced and reflective of the community, and Baltimore itself.

The consultants who were invited to attend were content experts and arts and culture rockstars who brought the same values we looked for in the participating artists.

The Weekend

By design, the retreat was intense.

The weekend began on Friday morning with 6-minute presentations by every artist using slides, videos, audio, and/or performance to represented their practice. These presentations were an opportunity for each artist to share their past and current journey in shaping their creative paths. The 6-minute presentations formed the core of our weekend experience, as they laid the foundation for  artists and consultants to know more about each other and helped create an environment where new connections and collaborations could be imagined.

The presentations were followed by celebration, and a shared meal. The night ended with a bonfire where artists and consultants swapped stories and made s’mores. The day was peppered with moments of whimsy and expressions of gratitude, and left attendees eagerly anticipating the remainder of the retreat.

Saturday was dedicated to professional development. Artists met with their designated consultants for one-on-one tailored coaching, and then participated in workshops led by the consultants. The workshops, plenary sessions, and consulting pairs were informed by data collected from the Baltimore Artist Retreat application.

We made the sessions focused on sustainability required. Those sessions, “Strategic Planning: Building a Balanced Sustainable Life,”  and “Long-Term Financial Thinking for Artists: Rates, Revenue, and Capital” were led by Andrew Simonet, Founder and Director of Artists U-- a “grassroots artist-run, free, and open-source” “incubator for changing the working conditions of artists."

Participants were able to build out the rest of their professional development schedule with a variety of workshops led by our consultants:

  • “Awards, Residencies, + Fellowships,” a conversation featuring awardees Wendel Patrick, Elissa Blount Moorhead, Paul Rucker, and administrators George Scheer (Elsewhere) and Deana Haggag (President + CEO of United States Artist), moderated by artist and educator Joyce Yu-Jean Lee;

  • “Cultural Organizing & Building Creative Community,” a conversation with Glory Edim (Well Read Black Girl), Kimi Hanauer (Press Press), Carla Du Pree (CityLit Project), George Ciscle (Baltimore Clayworks, MICA Curatorial Practice, and Founder of The Contemporary) moderated by artist and educator Dave Eassa. \\

  • “Legal Advice for Artists” (led by Adam Holofcener, ED of MDVLA)

  • “Artists’ & The Marketplace” (led by arts consultant and collector Schwanda Rountree, Young Arts Patrons founder Whitney Hardy, and founder of The Agora Culture and Art on the Vine, Jessica Stafford Davis).

  • “Artist’s as Parents” facilitated by Artists U

We interrogated the role of wellness and holistic health at the retreat by creating the “Studio for Wellness, Arts and Contemplation” (SWAC)--a temporary pop-up space where artists could rest, meditate, engage in movement based practices, receive a reiki energy session, make chakra related essential oils, and generally unwind and reflect on their bodies, minds, and spirits during this intensive weekend.  The SWAC was stewarded by Ana Temple Rodney, a doula, author, yogi, Reiki Master and healer based in Baltimore.

The SWAC played a bigger role in the weekend than we expected, especially on Sunday.

Sunday was dedicated to reflection and integration. After the final plenary, the entire Baltimore Artist Retreat community gathered in a large circle to share reflections. It was an emotional and deeply moving experience, thoughtfully facilitated by Ana, the SWAC coordinator.  

Moving Forward/Impact and Scale

It is rare that artists, at any level in their careers, get a chance to get away with 39 other artists, for a free weekend to get to know each other more deeply, reflect on their own practice, and gain tangible skills and resources to create a more sustainable life as an artist.

This 2018 retreat is only the beginning.

As a Foundation and learning organization invested in building equity and supporting structural change, we are committed to creating spaces like this retreat, where Baltimore artists and cultural organizers can connect, grow, and challenge themselves and the society we are all working to transform.

Through this process we collected data from over 150 artists about the types of personal and professional development topics that they found most relevant to their practice, and used this data to curate the workshops and discussions. But we also see this data as a tool to advance the conversation around professional support and funding, towards solutions and opportunities that center on the needs of artists in Baltimore.  

Moving forward we want this retreat to serve as a model for what is possible.

We will be publishing a report in Fall 2018 to share our findings and offer recommendations to artists, funders, and organizations, on how they can potentially use this data to advocate for the needs of their practices, funding goals, and missions, in an effort to better support the culturally transformative work being done by Baltimore artists.

This retreat was the most fruitful weekend experience of my artist career. I made connections I would never have made, was given immeasurable advice from great one-on-one mentors and was part of an energetic and magical few days. I was able to look at my practice from other people’s points of views as they were interacting with my work and it’s content for the first time.
— Sara Bahermez, Artist
I applied for the retreat because I was interested in connecting with the Baltimore art scene in a different context than I would as a curator, organizer, or show attendee. I was super excited about the potential to make some new friendships and allies and deepen existing relationships with the community.
It was amazing that the organizers nurtured a truly radical energy among the participants - and that we were able to receive that and allow it to alter and transform the possibilities for honest and real conversations, deeper connections, and meaningful affirmations of our practices. Coming away from the retreat, I realized that the group assembled that weekend really represented Baltimore’s creative core and that as I go forward in my organizing and community artwork, I’ll hold myself accountable to present and nurture those creative energies and ideas.
— Anonymous, Artist