Yesterday afternoon, the Baltimore Housing and Fire departments shut down the Bell Foundry, a long-standing DIY performance space and art studio in the city. Citing code violations, city officials told the tenants they had just an hour to retrieve their belongings before the the building was boarded shut, though a Facebook live video shows residents claiming they were given just 20 minutes to vacate.
Chief Roman Clark, a spokesman for the Baltimore Fire Department, told the Baltimore City Paper that fire marshals inspected the building after receiving a complaint.
“We have to think about the safety of people, especially when we receive a complaint,” he said. “We have to act on it. That’s what we did.”
According to Bell Foundry resident Person Ablach, a fire marshal entered the building sometime Monday morning as another tenant was holding the door open, and began taking photographs. The marshal refused to leave, Ablach said, and more city officials soon arrived. The tenants were eventually issued a cease-and-desist notice and evicted for various code violations.
E’lon Battle, another tenant at the studio, said one of the violations was for possessing a flammable material, which Battle said was paint used in the studio’s printing shop. Exposed ceiling beams and wires were also cited, according to Battle, as was a quarter-sized hole in the floor. Mattresses were also clearly visible, according to a resident, despite the space not having residential zoning.
Chief Clark later told the Baltimore Sun that citations were issued for a lack of a valid permit, unsafe conditions, use of flammables and combustibles, and unlawful removal of beams from the ceiling.
Tenants were told they could return to the space this morning to retrieve more of their property.
Aran Keating, the Artistic Director of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, which rents a space in the same building, told the Baltimore Sun that the displacement, even if temporary, could have a drastic effect on his collective, which has been performing in the city since 2007. “Stuff like this could sink us,” he said. “We’ve been an anchor in Station North for four years, and it feels like this is the thanks we get.”
Ablach posted a video to Facebook showing displaced tenants arguing with a Baltimore city police officer who refused to let them reenter the building to look for a missing cat.
“I love cats. But if there was a cat up there you would have had an opportunity to get it, would you not ?” the officer shouts at one point. “You didn’t have the opportunity to get it because apparently you didn’t care about it enough.”
Multiple tenants said they believed the city was using the deadly fire at an Oakland DIY arts community this weekend as an excuse to evict them from the neighborhood, which in recent years has seen a series of multi-million dollar developments go up. Chief Clark told City Paper there was no official connection between the inspection’s timing and the fire in Oakland. “The only thing I can say is we acted on a complaint we received,” he said.
A GoFundMe for the building’s tenants was quickly set up and has since raised more than $12,000, which is a silver lining for some residents. “If we invest any money into the building [to get it up to code], they could just take it away later,” Battle said. “We might as well buy a new space now. Like, fuck the Bell Foundry.”