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Outside at Current Space: Photo Essay

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When I noticed that Current space was hosting a members-only cocktail party, I signed up for an annual membership immediately. I couldn’t even attend that party, but I wanted to throw some support behind an organization that I have long admired for quietly doing the work of community building within the arts in Baltimore. Current has been an artist-run collective and supported artists’ careers for over a decade. Now that they own their building on Howard Street, it’s that much more important that this organization stay afloat. Plus, I kept seeing these gorgeous purple-lit photos of concerts and events in the backyard full of lush tropical plants and perfect yet un-fussy landscaping that begged for socializing and photos.

Current has created the perfect environment for outdoor, Covid-responsible parties, and I hope this practice lasts into the colder months, too. Last week I finally got to attend a members event and I’m so glad. The weather was crisp “sweater weather” and a cocktail party was a distinct challenge to get dressed, and not in sweat pants. I wanted to see beautiful photos of beautiful people under those glowing purple lights, drinking cute cocktails and being out in the world, a reflection of how we used to get together in the days before a pandemic.

Photographer Elena Volkova joined me for the evening with a camera and some remote flashes and we had a great time seeing old friends and making new ones, but also posing guests in mini photoshoots under giant banana leaves and vines and twinkling lights. I hope you enjoy these photos of just a few of Current’s new members and decide to become one too. In Baltimore, we have to support the good things when we have the chance to and then show up, wearing the cute shoes.

I caught up with Current co-directors Julianne Hamilton and Michael Benevento to ask more about Current’s outdoor adventures in music, art, fashion, and community building.

 

Cara Ober: Current has recently been hosting a number of outdoor concerts and events in their backyard space, a great way to continue to support musicians and performing artists during the pandemic which has hit them really hard. When did this programing start at Current and who are some of the acts you have hosted in the past few months?

Michael Benevento: While we have been hosting performances in our courtyard since 2010, we felt like we needed to make the space more available to artists, especially as one of the few outdoor venues during a respiratory pandemic—and over a year of isolation for everyone. For many of the events, it was the first time people performed since the pandemic. And people coming to the shows kept telling me this was their first time going to a show since the “before times” and seeing lots of people—other than going to the grocery store.

Over the summer we have had a variety of outdoor events including different types of music, screenings, and performance art including Chiffon, Stephen Santillan, Rae Red, Pearl, Truth Cult, Mind on Fire, Mitch Treger & Accomplices, Cookie Tongue, Larkin Grimm, Terry Koger Quintet, and others. We also launched a membership program with a series of private parties in our garden with artists DJing like Elena Johnston and Lexie Mountain.

Current has been using its front windows to show art and performance, but I keep seeing these gorgeous purple and lavender photos from your backyard. Did you recently renovate out back? What have you done to change the look and feel of your outdoor space?

MB: We spent the pandemic also landscaping the back, most of it built out of salvage and fragments of the neighborhood. Our flower bed retaining walls are built from brick wall fragments from the Mayfair and excavated concrete chunks from our basement. We filled our sinkhole with gravel and tiled vestibule chunks from the Schuster’s building that burned down across the street several years ago.

Other than the screws and wood sealer, the planter benches are all recycled materials, mostly 2×4 precuts from past art handling gigs, demolishing temporary walls. Last year at the beginning of the pandemic, the bus and larger shipping container expanded into the neighboring lot which all had to be emptied and removed when those properties were allotted to another developer and they needed that space cleared to demolish the historic buildings along Franklin.

It got a little mangled, but I love that the Paulownia [tree] survived the demolition next door. When we first moved to Howard Street in 2010, it was a spherical weed shrub growing out of the asphalt and I trimmed it to look like broccoli. Now it’s a massive tree with giant leaves and purple flowers towering over the beginnings of a meadow establishing in the sandy crater next door. We’ve had a lot of fun picking out plants at our own space; early on we met with Brick Hill Plant Lab about sourcing plants and best practices. We’ve been going on a lot of walks noting plants we see in parks and yards.

Julianne Hamilton: I think the courtyard is Michael’s latest sculpture. He’s spent years researching and gathering inspiration from outdoor spaces and ruin gardens around the world—from Berlin to Budapest to Panama City. I used to wonder what he was going to do with all of these chunks of buildings accumulating out back. I’m so impressed with how he put it all together.

 

I am assuming some of this is because your organization now owns the building. How is this going? What is the best part of owning your own building?

JH: It’s so, so great. Honestly all of the parts are the best parts—breaking the cycle of artist displacement, having a seat at the table as a “property owner” in the neighborhood, making major building improvements, and planning for the future in a way that wasn’t possible before are all so wonderful.

MB: We are now an owner-occupied community asset, vs. a real estate flipper’s wet dream or future luxury apartment tower.

YES! What’s your philosophy on combining art and music and performance into one space? Why does this seem to make so much sense for Current?

MB: It’s all art. We strive to equip the space to support whatever mediums artists are communicating in, including more experimental formats that might not have another outlet. It’s our mission to nourish a dialogue between artists, activists, performers, designers, curators, and thinkers. Creating a multidisciplinary space encourages artists to influence each other, collaborate, experiment, and push each other.

 

How does the membership program work? Are certain events available to members only?

JH: Current Space has operated since 2004 on a volunteer basis, but we really needed to create a more sustainable model in order to keep exhibitions and programming going at the same pace. One of the ways we’re doing that is by getting a liquor license (in the works!), another way was building out additional studio spaces (all full now, but we do have a couple of screenprinting memberships available), and the newest way is through sustaining memberships.

While we’ve had the membership platform for a while, most people didn’t really know about it until we held the first Members Party this summer. That was a huge success and so much fun, so we followed up with a Members Cocktail Party (September 30th). These members-only events encourage more people to sign up, but also help to build a sense of connection among our existing members, including our studio members.

Sustaining memberships are available in tiers ranging from $5/month to $25/month and come with perks like the members-only events, discounted or free admission to events, and discounts in our online shop. Memberships obviously help support Current Space financially, but also really fit into the kind of community environment we hope to create as we grow. We love the idea that people might feel they’re entering a sort of clubhouse when they come here.

We’re incredibly grateful to all of the folks who’ve become members and honestly blown away by the love and words of encouragement people have shared with us.

What are some upcoming concerts and performances to look forward to?

JH: We’re really excited about the variety of things that are coming up! On October 8th, we have Fantasy Machine: 3, an experimental fashion show and pop up shop; Lou Joseph has a solo show opening in the gallery October 15th; Double Dagger is playing the following day, October 16th (but that’s sold out); and on October 22nd, we’re screening Swarm Season.

We’re hoping for a mild fall, because after that we still have tons of events planned out back into mid-November—several more music shows, a performance art variety show, a classical music event, a Halloween drag show, and a puppet show!

People can check out what’s next and get details on our website, Instagram, or our ticket page.

 

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