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The Last Resort Artist Retreat

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Baltimore native Derrick Adams, now a Brooklyn-based internationally known visual artist, is a visionary, blessed with the gift of seeing beyond the here and now. In paintings, he transforms static, downtrodden visual narratives about Black experience into colorful artworks that reflect joy, respite, and leisure.

Inspired by Baltimore’s powerful and complex history, Adams is now devoted to creating a physical space that reflects the ethos of his visual art. Established on a quiet block in the intimate north Baltimore neighborhood of Waverly, The Last Resort Artist Retreat (TLRAR) will offer Black creatives curated experiences in communal spaces that emphasize a renewed regard for rest, rejuvenation, and cross-disciplinary exchange.

The value and potential in this city’s artists motivated him to formulate TLRAR. “The city has tried everything else and it’s not working,” Adams says, noting the prevalence of outside developers and corporations the city tries to attract. “That approach doesn’t necessarily grow the economy in the city. It doesn’t address the racial divide in the city. We need another tactic to evolve the city and move us forward.”

Although many agree that Baltimore has a strong creative community, Adams says the city has not supported artists “in a way that’s stable and substantial. That’s one of the reasons why a lot of creatives have moved out of Baltimore.” That’s why there is a great need for projects like The Last Resort, “which is really a safe space for social engagement and strategizing,” Adams says. “It is also a solution space, to resolve some of the broken links for the creative community.”

 

Thomas James on the porch at The Last Retreat with outdoor sculpture by Derrick Adams
Outdoor spaces with sculpture and garden furniture
LImited Edition Print Series by a variety of contemporary artists
Painting by Zéh Palito
I feel welcomed by all of the extraordinary prints and textiles by famed and emerging artists including Amani Lewis, Faith Ringgold, Glenn Ligon, Brandon Donahue, Mickalene Thomas, Rosa Leff, Devin Morris, Romare Bearden, Zéh Palito, and Wangechi Mutu, among others, lining every free wall in the otherwise white-on-white estate.
Angela N. Carroll

Arts spaces founded by Theaster Gates in Chicago, Titus Kaphar in Connecticut, and Kehinde Wiley in Senegal operate from a similar premise, Adams says. He notes the specific neglect and abandonment that Black communities in Baltimore have faced. “Those warehouses and abandoned spaces should be given over to the nonprofit organizations who are a part of these communities, to change the trajectory by showing an idea of hope through creative output,” Adams says.

I write this while seated in a white lounge chair in one of the many communal spaces on the main floor of The Last Resort. An iconic black and white image by photographer I. Henry Phillips Sr., featuring a crowned African-American couple adorned in regal attire, smiles out at me from across the room. I feel welcomed by them and all of the other extraordinary prints and textiles by famed and emerging artists including Amani Lewis, Faith Ringgold, Glenn Ligon, Brandon Donahue, Mickalene Thomas, Rosa Leff, Devin Morris, Romare Bearden, Zéh Palito, and Wangechi Mutu, among others, lining every free wall in the otherwise white-on-white estate.

White walls and furniture, high ceilings, and abundant windows illuminate the space. I think about Zora Neale Hurston’s proclamation, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background,” and realize that the intentional choice to overwhelm The Last Resort space with an immense example of Black creative genius is what makes me feel at home here. I am also reminded, as I walk through the wood-frame house built over 112 years ago, that environments for Black respite are not odd—we have always made room for our collective joy and rest. I feel safe because it is a site that in principle and design proudly declares its unabashed Blackness and reminds us that culture is what we create effortlessly and elegantly, and respite is not something that we seek often enough.

Feeling safe allows us freedom to imagine and stretch beyond the fight-or-flight reptilian brain that weighs on the imagination and drains our attention with thoughts of survival. When you feel safe, you feel lighter and more able to engage in critical dialogues, connect with community, and resonate with reciprocal camraderie. This is the vision and the mission of TLRAR’s invitation-only residency program, projected to open next year.

 

Quilt and Jessica Spence photo
I. Henry Photo Project Photo, circa 1950s, photograph, and Zéh Palito painting
Dining area at The Last Resort
Dreamers need space to dream, and when Adams’ visions are manifest, Baltimore will receive the relief it has craved and attempted to independently sustain for generations.
Angela N. Carroll

Adams is excited about how invoking a call for solace will bring kindred creatives together. By declaring spaces for Black rest essential for the sustainability of Black art practices, Adams empowers artists from within and outside of Baltimore to prioritize their own psychic, psychological, and corporeal health. The call for retreat and rest also poses essential questions about the restorative possibilities that can emerge from collective dreaming, collective renewal, and collective joy.

Envisioning The Last Resort as an inter-generational meeting space for artists of various economic means and working in different disciplines, Adams says it is meant to be a site for “conversations about everything: dealing with family, economic stability, opportunities for collaborations, financial support, all these things that I feel are not always offered to the creative Black community in Baltimore.”

TLRAR is one of several programs stewarded by the umbrella nonprofit Charm City Cultural Cultivation, which Adams founded in 2020 to support the development of myriad projects that each encourage cultural growth, public art programs, and social engagement for Black creatives in Baltimore City. The other two projects—Black Baltimore Digital Database (BBDD), a collaborative archive and repository for Black communities in Baltimore, and Zora’s Den, a publishing platform for Black women writers curated by Victoria Kennedy—comprise a powerful triad that extends the reach of each organization.

With the support of curator and TLRAR Executive Director Thomas James, the residency’s first cohort of four selected artists is planned for a 2023 launch. A full fundraising campaign is underway to support the programming of curated experiences while the artists are in residence. A $1.25 million grant Adams received earlier in 2022 from the Mellon Foundation will support the development and launch of the bbdd in 2025.

Influenced by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, the bbdd will occupy another building in Waverly, a block away from the residency. The grant and additional fundraising efforts will initiate a planning phase, led by Creative Director Jelisa Blumberg, to shape the database into whatever community members convey is most needed to support new and established Black archival efforts in the city.

 

Outdoor space at The Last Resort
Thomas James on the porch at The Last Resort

“BBDD is essentially a sister organization of The Last Resort Artist Retreat,” explains James. “Throughout Derrick’s travels and while conducting research, he noticed that Baltimore doesn’t have an African-American Historical Society. Black history is part of the Maryland Historical Society, but there is no society specifically dedicated for African-American histories.”

The ambitious visions that Adams, James, and Blumberg foresee for the digital database and physical retreat are another opportunity to mark Baltimore as a serious art metropolis, and show those outside the region how committed local artists are to supporting underserved and underfunded communities in their city.

“It’s not just about the creative community, but I do think the creative Black community has been so dedicated to the Black community at large, just by using their resources to go into schools, to go into community centers, to do things in their neighborhoods like creative development and gardens,” says Adams. “These are things that we’ve been doing, and we have never really been given credit for it, but we also haven’t gotten the financial support we need to expand the possibilities of what can happen in cities like Baltimore. I’m interested in what it means to be in a space where you can change other people’s lives by just opening up spaces and using your resources to connect people.”

In the pursuit of excellence, we normalize grind culture. We make pleasurable social media posts that uplift sleeplessness and depletion to gain economic success. This trend of burnout as culture is neither sustainable nor in alignment with the healing methods that will bring us back into balance. Dreamers need space to dream, and when Adams’ visions are manifest, Baltimore will receive the relief it has craved and attempted to independently sustain for generations.

 

Outdoor bench sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas
Rosa Leff, Monument To The Market, 2022, powder- coated aluminum, concrete base
(detail) I. Henry Phillips Sr., Frank and Sheila Phillips with The Thinker at Baltimore Museum of Art, circa 1955, photographic print
Dining Room at The Last Resort
Mosaic on outbuilding by Loring Cornish
(detail) Mosaic on outbuilding by Loring Cornish

Header Image: Artwork by Rashaad Newsome and framed vintage blanket

This story is from Issue 14: Environment, available here.

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