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Baltimore Residency Space The Clifton House to Launch February 2021 

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There Are Black People in the Future

More than a year has passed since I first spoke with Sidney Clifton about her vision for The Clifton House, a new artists’ sanctuary in Baltimore, which is set to open in February 2021. I sensed her passion and strong instincts back when I interviewed her in the summer of 2019, when she was just getting started on making her childhood house into a home again. 

With everything in the world in constant disarray, it’s heartening to know one thing has not changed: Sidney Clifton’s vision.

The eldest daughter of the legendary poet Lucille Clifton and the community activist, philosophy professor and sculptor Fred Clifton, Sidney was raised with her five siblings in a white house on Clifton Avenue (pure coincidence!) in West Baltimore’s Windsor Hills neighborhood. During the time they lived there, Lucille wrote some of the most seminal works of her career, including her first book of poems, Good Times, and other titles written while a writer-in-residence at Coppin State University. By the end of the ‘70s, Lucille had crafted six books of poetry, a memoir, several children’s books, and earned the title of Maryland’s Poet Laureate. 

But then came 1980, when they lost their home due to financial instability. Nearly forty years later, on the ninth anniversary of her mother’s passing, Sidney felt called to reach out to the owner of the house and was more than delighted to find out that the house had gone on the market that very day. Sidney, who lives in California, worked out a deal with the owner, bought the house, and got to work building up the Clifton House as a place for creatives to hone their craft through programming like writing and history workshops, arts programs, and a residency/studio program. 

Lucille Clifton and kids dancing circa 1969

Since last summer, Sidney has made tremendous strides despite financial and global barriers. After assembling a board of directors, her team secured a fiscal sponsor, From the Heart Productions, and were awarded a three-year grant for $750,000 from the Mellon Foundation this September. Clifton House is projected to open one day before Valentine’s Day of 2021, the eleventh anniversary of Lucille Clifton’s passing (and also the death date of Lucille’s mother). 

Luckily, the world of social distancing and virtual programming will allow for more folks to access what Clifton House has to offer. When it’s safe to do so, the space will eventually be physically open to the public. For the first quarter of programming, Sidney says, “we’re having a discussion now about a series of online conversations and poetry readings featuring some contemporaries of my mom and featuring some emerging poets also. We’re having conversations with significant folks, like Sonia Sanchez and Ishmael Reed—Ishmael introduced my parents to each other.” 

Clifton House programming will include low- to no-cost visual and literary workshops for both children and adults, poetry readings, visual art showcases, sculpture workshops, after-school tutoring, basic computer literacy classes for the elderly, international cultural exchange workshops, a lending library of books and visual art, hands-on live-action and animation production, as well as two-week residencies for two artists per year. The Clifton House will also act as a bridge to accessing higher education in the arts via meet-and-greets with local alumni, college career advisors, and educators from MICA. For now, a lot of these programs will be offered virtually, but once it is safe, the Clifton House will be open for the greater Baltimore community. 

The Clifton House will be a hub for Black and marginalized people to heal through creative expression, as well as space to foster a tighter knit community of Black and brown artists both globally and in Baltimore. “We need generations of writers to believe that our lives matter, our stories matter, and the way we tell them makes a difference and is valuable,” Sidney says. 

It is also a means for Lucille Clifton’s legacy and spirit to live on. “People always say my mother’s work embodied immediate access to her story and her unique way of walking in the world, almost like translating the way she was able to do that simply, in a language that was accessible to everyone,” Sidney says. “And a lot of it is because she saw value in her ability to see. But a lot of people are not validated in their ability to see in the way they see. We want to teach people to value their story, their vision, their perspective… It’s more than writing workshops, it’s how you value yourself and your story.”  

*****

To learn more about Lucille Clifton and The Clifton House, watch this clip from MPT.

 

Siblings Gillian, Alexia, Sidney, and Graham on the steps of Clifton House in 2019
Clifton House

Images courtesy of Sidney Clifton; Header image: Lucille Clifton on steps circa 1974

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