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The Crow’s Nest Lands on Mulberry Street

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Bromo Art Walk, Summer 2023: Photo Essay

My little corner of the Bromo Arts District is characterized as much by international comings-and-goings as it is by its arts district designation. The Cantonese signs in the storefronts of old Chinatown might be replaced by Arabic or Amharic overnight. So when artist Lydia Petit, my friend and the founder of Platform Arts Center, moved to London a few years ago and put the stately townhouse up for sale, I wondered who my new neighbor might be, and what fresh perspectives they’d bring to the neighborhood.

Luckily for me, that neighbor turned out to be Leonardo Martinez-Diaz, a climate activist and policy expert, photographer, and arts advocate originally from Mexico City. Martinez is currently finishing up a thorough renovation of the storied building at 116 W. Mulberry Street with the help of Baltimore’s award-winning rehab experts at EastWing Architects. The space will soon reopen as The Crow’s Nest—keeping Petit’s vision of affordable studios and diverse gallery programming alive and well, with a green twist.The Crow’s Nest will be Baltimore’s first arts incubator focused on climate and environmental justice.

 

Martinez grew up in Mexico City in the 1980s, a turbulent decade defined by a pollution crisis and devastating earthquake that demonstrated that government failures and bad planning can have deadly consequences. After studying in Chicago, the United Kingdom, and Indonesia, Martinez ended up in DC, where he worked for federal government agencies under the Obama and Biden administrations—including his current role as Senior Director for Climate Finance to US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry. All the while, he devoted time to his passion for making the arts more accessible to young people, serving on the Board of the New Orchestra of Washington.

Last year, Martinez moved to Baltimore—drawn by the city’s affordability, access to the waterfront, architecture, and long history of activism. He cites Rachel Carson, the Baltimorean who famously launched the modern environmental movement with her book Silent Spring, as an inspiration.

The Crows Nest, which will begin accepting applications for studio tenants and collaborators this spring, promises to live up to the legacies of both Carson and Platform. With six studio spaces, an exhibition and event space, workshops, a library, and generous common areas, Martinez plans to foster “a diverse creative community whose members can inspire one another, collaborate, experiment, and cross-pollinate ideas.” With his multidisciplinary contacts, Martinez hopes to offer artists and creatives chances to collaborate with scientists, policy-makers, and activists.

As a part-time chilango (Mexico City resident) myself, I have to ask Martinez what he misses most about the sprawling metropolis. He tells me, “The feeling of perpetual surprise. No matter the hour, there is always something unexpected around the corner, or some- thing absurd, or delicious, or shocking. Few cities have this quality. There is also a vibrant artistic community drawing on a massive historical reservoir of creativity. And it is well connected to global trends, not just from the United States, but also from Europe and the rest of Latin America.”

Hopefully, that’s the dynamic energy we’ll be bringing to our block of Mulberry Street—just with less smog.

 

This story is from Issue 15: Migration, available here.

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