Margaret Footner is executive director of the Creative Alliance. Founded by volunteers in 1995, the Creative Alliance is community-driven nonprofit organization that works with artists, educators, activists, and community members to host, support, and produce art and arts-based programs throughout Baltimore. Each year, the Creative Alliance organizes and presents hundreds of local events and exhibitions at its galleries and venues such as the historic Patterson Theater. Additionally, the organization is engaged in an array of youth education, residency, outreach, and workshop programming. Margaret spoke with citybizlist about expanding these programs, representing Baltimore’s diverse populations through art, and how opening her own restaurant led her to her position at the Creative Alliance.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Can you tell us about your background? How did the Creative Alliance get started?
MARGARET FOOTNER:I started a little restaurant. I am probably the worst marketer on the planet, and I never put a name on it. I put a sandwich board out that said “café open,” and so it became “Margaret’s Cafe Open.” It was important to me to exhibit art as part of the café, so I established a gallery on the second floor. That was kind of new in those days, at least in Baltimore. The café scene was just starting.
I had known [former Creative Alliance program director] Megan [Hamilton] from afar, as a writer for the city paper. She wrote art criticism. I ran into her, literally, on the street, and I said, “I’m establishing this place, I’m going to have a gallery upstairs, I think I’ve got my hands full, and I need help with the gallery. Do you know anybody who might be interested?” She said, “I’ll ask around,” and then came back shortly herself, with Dan Schiavone, and said, “We’d like to do it.
So, Halcyon Gallery was born. We ran the gallery as part of the café for a couple years, and then we realized that we really were interested in doing more than a gallery. Megan had a background in performance promotion, Dan is an artist, and I was really interested in incorporating art into community life—just making art a part of everyday life, taking it out of its rarefied environments and making it less intimidating and more available, which is why I had the gallery. We put our heads together and we really thought about what we wanted to do. Dan’s point of view—well, all of our point of view—but as an artist, he really brought the focus on local artists and the need for Baltimore to be presenting, and promoting, and recognizing its own artists, which it wasn’t doing a lot of at that time—in 1995. Megan, as a performance person, was interested in performers. I also have an education background and really wanted a focus on kids.
So, we combined these three threads—representing local artists of multiple disciplines, being community-based, and working with kids—into our mission statement, which has sustained itself for 22 years, although the words have changed and some of the meanings have changed as our community and our city has changed.
We ran out of Halcyon Gallery. We ran out of other spaces in Fells Point. We were sort of a migratory volunteer effort called the Fells Point Creative Alliance, and then Dan bought the Moose Lodge in Highland Town, and so we began to use that as a performance space as well as the gallery. Our first program was The Big Show. The Big Show was an invitational: anyone who wanted to be a member of the Creative Alliance could show in The Big Show. And when we got about 80 responses, we were in business. That was our first fundraiser; that was our first program. This year will be our 22nd Big Show, all-hung members show.
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