Stars and Bars: Welcome to the Creative Alliance

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The Creative Alliance (Photo by David LaMason)

There is such a rich variety of music throughout both Baltimore and DC, but it’s a rare thing to find places that are so in love with the arts that the place itself becomes part of that artistic experience. 

Baltimore’s Creative Alliance, which formed back in 1995, has become a vital force in East Baltimore, expanding into the old Patterson Theater (itself over 100 years old) back in 2003 right when I, myself, moved into the neighborhood.

Since that time, the Creative Alliance has hosted a number of shows from artists as varied as brilliant folk duo Anna & Elizabeth (having hosted more than one annual Crankie Fest there), the amazing Americana voices of John Moreland and Joan Shelley, and the punk gospel of Algiers. It’s hard to chose a favorite show, because there have been so many varied performances there, and, also, because when you go there it feels like a family environment — even when you are in a room filled with people you may not know.

I had the opportunity to connect with Ari Pluznik, Community Arts Liaison for the Creative Alliance about the arts collective and the events that the Creative Alliance has put together.

David LaMason: Ari, the Creative Alliance has been such a visible part of this community, from putting together art gallery shows, musical performances, and theater to events like the Lantern Parade and Día de Los Muertos. How has the Creative Alliance been weathering the changes from COVID-19?

Ari Pluznik: Here at Creative Alliance, we’re fortunate to be highly responsive and adaptable. Like all arts organizations around the country, we’ve had to reimagine life with COVID-19. Though we’ve closed our doors to the public, we’ve moved our programming online to still be able to serve our community with quality programming, in a safe way. We’ve also been focused on reaching people at homes (in addition to online) with sidewalk serenades, deliveries of fiesta party packs, mailed kite kits, and workshops that promote socializing. We’ll continue to brainstorm ways to engage with our community through the arts to keep us all connected and uplifted during these hard times!

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The Latino Festival sponsored by the Creative Alliance

DL: How have these changes affected how Creative Alliance operates and are there changes you see coming around the corner?

AP: Before COVID-19, our building was packed with people visiting our two galleries, free community events, workshops, weekly performances in the theater, our after-school education programs were in full swing, and we were preparing for a jampacked year to celebrate our 25th Anniversary. Obviously, COVID-19 presented us with a challenge of how to provide these same services and fulfill our mission of bringing people together to experience incredible art together, in times of social distancing. We’ve moved the bulk of our programming online, are working to provide high-quality streaming for performances, created online programming for our students, and expanded our free offerings through social media.  Our staff has organized a wide range of online workshops and classes, from guitar lessons to mindfulness and creativity to mixology, in addition to virtual interviews, artist talks, and more.

When it’s safe to slowly begin to re-open to the public, we will continue to adapt our programming to best serve our audiences and are expand our offerings now that we’ve explored digital programming.

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Joan Shelley performs at the Creative Alliance

DL: One of the coolest things I’ve seen take place are these sidewalk serenades you mentioned earlier. Being part of the community here, I have had the great fortune to witness one of these with Caleb Stine and Kagey Parrish from the Honey Dewdrops. How did those performances come about? And is there any word on it returning in some way? 

AP: About a week or two before quarantine, Creative Alliance staff got the treat of a song-a-gram from a local acapella group gifted by a friend of the organization. When COVID-19 hit, staff was devastated for the musicians who would lose their ability to make a living by playing shows. We also realized how desperately in need of joy our community was during these tumultuous times. Then we thought – what if we sent musicians to peoples’ doorsteps to serenade them from a safe distance? This would bring our community light and joy in dark times in addition to providing a modest income for hard-hit musicians. It was a win-win, and we were so excited with how it turned out. Over the past few weeks with Maryland’s stay-at-home order, we’ve suspended the program, but we’re happy to report that with the lifting of the order we are safely resuming our Sidewalk Serenades!

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The David Wax Museum at the Creative Alliance

DL: Finally, what is the best way for people to support the Creative Alliance?

AP: Creative Alliance accepts and appreciates donations of all sizes! If you would like to donate, please visit our website at creativealliance.org. We also have wonderful membership opportunities, which include discounts on ticketed programs, exclusive members-only events and workshops, and the perk of exhibiting your artwork, and/or performing, as part of our Big Show!

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the Creative Alliance. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.

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The Lantern Parade sponsored by the Creative Alliance
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Alejandro Escovedo performs at the Creative Alliance
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Christopher Paul Stelling and his band at the Creative Alliance
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Joe Ely at the Creative Alliance
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