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New Executive Director of Creative Alliance Announced

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“For me, what’s exciting about Baltimore as a whole, is that it’s bubbling like a good gumbo,” says Jason Steer, the new Executive Director of the Creative Alliance, originally from London by way of two decades in New York.

“Baltimore has all the flavors and right now is the perfect time, before everyone tastes it, to dig in,” says the arts administrator. “It’s an amazing city, and I want to be a part of the group that gets to say, we all knew it was amazing from day one, before the rest of the world does.”

On a Zoom call in late January, Steer is ebullient and practically sparkling with positive energy, as he explains a background steeped in art making, sociology, and the space where the two intersect: community engagement and cultural programming. He comes to Baltimore after nine years at the world-famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem, known for a century as the place “Where Stars are Born and Legends are Made,” where he served in several senior roles spanning programming, educational leadership, and youth engagement.

 

“The Apollo is very dear to me, in the sense of who I have grown up to be,” Steer explains. “It is the only Black art space like this in the country. The history there is just phenomenal, but also it’s still living, still relevant, especially to young people. It’s been a beautiful journey to be able to use that platform and legacy to draw young people into the space, and provide opportunities for all kinds of people.”

While at the Apollo, Steer’s role primarily focused around youth programming, using music, film, and dance, and outreach to new and previously marginalized communities like LGBTQI Ballroom and the Deaf community.

“The arts are where my joy is, where my heart is,” he says. “The Apollo was a beautiful platform to help people to move forward creatively.”

 

When I come into a space and am looking to develop an organization, a program, etc. the project itself is my canvas.
Jason Steer

Steer began his career in London at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design, where he studied sculpture, with a concentration in metals and blacksmithing. After moving to New York for personal reasons, he continued his education at Lehman College in the Bronx, earning a combined degree in studio art and sociology.

Steer says his ability to think creatively and problem solve like an artist is his modus operandi. “When I come into a space and am looking to develop an organization, a program, etc., the project itself is my canvas,” he says. “All the pieces, whether concept, marketing, staffing, audience–they’re all the colors, brushstrokes, images, ideas. And I am working on a new, beautiful piece I want to create.”

When I asked him why he wanted to lead the community at the Creative Alliance, he spoke confidently about the organization’s ability to continue to grow and play a more intentional role within Baltimore’s creative ecosystem.

“I want to continue to develop the type of work that Creative Alliance is known for, and an individual like myself really wants to connect, to build a hub, a cabal, even… [laughter]. I am all about the seriousness of the work, about doing this together, and cultivating audiences across the DMV. Creative Alliance just turned thirty and I am interested in developing a structure that moves us closer to institutions in some ways, but remains true to our authentic roots… How do we think about Creative Alliance long term? Where do we want it to be in sixty or seventy years? And what opportunities exist for the organization and all the people who work with it, that we are currently not aware of?”

 

Steer cited a number of similarities between the Apollo and Creative Alliance, citing programmatic and fiscal strength, with space to build out new structures for long-term thinking, nationally and even internationally.

“At the Apollo we nurture curators, producers, performing artists, and musicians, and Creative Alliance does this as well, but with an emphasis on visual artists. It’s a model that I love and know well. For me, it’s all about education, how we connect our resident artists and performers and develop apprenticeships within. I think it’s important to think about how artists can give back to the next generation, and this actually moves us forward.”

We discussed the Artist Residency at Creative Alliance, how unique it is for artists to have a live-work space within the creative community, and Steer stated that it needed to be a safe space for artists, but also that he wants to create more opportunities for residents to be seen and heard. A goal is to make the residency program to be even more well-known within a national arts community, and he looks forward to working with the artists to chart a course forward.

I asked Jason what his colleagues and peers in New York said when he told them he was moving to Baltimore and his response surprised me. “Everyone I told I was moving, immediately said, ‘You’ve got to meet this person or that person, this friend, or this family member!!’”

He said they described Baltimore as a caring and open city, where people take pride in their neighborhoods, open and accessible without some of the hierarchy and divisions that New York has.

“I think Baltimore is a city where people are eager to come into each others spaces and connect, and this is exactly how I work,” he said. “So this role is a beautiful opportunity to use art as a platform to connect with people, communities, neighborhoods, the arts districts. I am coming in to learn and educate myself about what makes Baltimore so special, and then I plan to amplify that.”

Steer hits the ground running, officially starting at Creative Alliance on February 1, and has moved his residence to Baltimore. “I love how welcoming and charming everyone has been at Creative Alliance. I am excited about the work they’ve done so far and the work we will do in the future. I look forward to having some fun, and I think the goal is always to produce work that shares joy.”

 

Photos courtesy of Creative Alliance

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