By Catherine Pugh
Special to the AFRO

The Baltimore Art Museum’s Sculpture Garden was recently the scene of  “A Midsummer Night’s Gala,” hosted by the newly appointed BMA Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director, Asma Naeem and world renowned Baltimore artist, Derrick Adams.

Adams’ works are showcased in museums throughout the world and have earned him numerous awards, including the Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship in 2018.  His art is versatile. He paints, sculptures, creates performance videos, sound installations and collages. 

Derrick Adams, now 52 years old, left Baltimore after spending a year at the Community College of Baltimore. From there, he landed in  Brooklyn, New York, where he earned his Degree in Fine Arts at the Pratt Institute, in 1996 and an MFA from Columbia University in 2003.

Derrick Adams grew up in the Park Heights community and spoke with the AFRO about his time growing up in Charm City.

“It was different then,” he explained.  “There were families there –not the narrative that has evolved over the years with the crime rate.”

Tonya Miller, currently senior advisor  to the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, has known Adams since she was 14 years old. She brought him back to Baltimore in 2019 for a city hall exhibit, said “Derrick is like the pied piper for Black artists in Baltimore.”

Adams said he started forming his nonprofit, The Last Resort Artist Retreat (TLRAR), in 2019 as a way “to keep Black artists in Baltimore.” Derrick bought the property in Waverly and the vacant lot next door.  What he often called his “summer home” became the home to TLRAR. 

Adams said that he took on the project after “studying some of the history of the city” and taking note of “the accomplishments made by others who tried to create spaces [and] opportunities for a lot of the Black citizens,” but  “somehow… fell short.” 

“Black artists  struggle to stay afloat and get support for their work and the space they need to develop,” Adams told the AFRO, recalling the good ole’ days with spaces like the Kromah Gallery, one of the only Black Art Galleries in the city that opened in 1978 and has since closed.

“I’ve been driven by the idea of creating a nonprofit that focuses on the creative community in Baltimore and the Black creative community primarily,” said Adams. 

The artist said that “growing up and hearing conversations surrounding the lack of  support [for] Black people in the Arts” was a major impetus for TLRAR. He often wondered “how much better they (Black artists) would be if they had the financial support for spaces and things that are needed for them to be successful.”  

“It is always a constant struggle for Black spaces to stay afloat because of the lack of support from federal to private funding in this particular city,” said Adams, adding that this is not the case in all cities across the country. 

To remedy the situation, Adams put his own money into the idea of creating a non-profit focused on the survival of Black artists– to the tune of “over $800,000” according to his accountant, who reports that the personal investments from Adams were put up over a three-year period. 

 “I am sad and happy that I had to do that,” Adams told the AFRO, “but I guess that was what was needed to get the attention and support of others.”

The property Adams bought and renovated in Baltimore’s Waverly community houses for TLRAR serves as a retreat and residency program focused on Black artists of all disciplines. 

TLRAR It is expected to continue to grow and help Black artists as they “create financial structure for themselves,” said Adams. “We want our Black artists in Baltimore to know that you can live here in Baltimore, where the cost of living is cheaper. With social media [and] the internet, we can showcase their works all over the world.”

The well attended event at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) solely supported TLRAR. Last year, Adams won a $1.25 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to create a database for documenting the Black Culture of Baltimore. 

Among the diverse crowd were local and other national artists including Mickalene Thomas, and Leslie King Hammond. Art supporters and philanthropists,  including Claire Zamoiski Segal, Eddie and Sylvia Brown, David Warnock, Sherrilyn Ifill and Ivon Knobloch were also on hand for the event.

Newly appointed BMA Director Asma Naeem said the money raised and support for TLRAR “is a start. We have to do more.” 

Chairman of the BMA Board James Thornton agreed. 

“The fact that we were able to bring artists together to collaborate represents–hopefully– a foundation we can build on  over the years to come. It was refreshing to see the diversity and we are committed to diversity and inclusion and equity.  This is a good way to demonstrate that through our actions.”

We will do this at least something similar once a year and next year we hope to have an even bigger crowd,” he said.  

Derrick Adams says others began to notice what he was doing for Black Artist including the BMA and wanted to help. “They were hearing how they were being supported by me.  On this evening we hope to raise, I don’t know,  I’ll say $100,000.  “I want to create spaces in Baltimore for artist and specifically Black artist to grow, stay and live and unlike what I had to do; leave Baltimore to earn a living.” 

There were opportunities during the Mid-Summer Night Gala  to bid on art by Black artist including Derrick Adams and to purchase items illustrating the logo of the organization The Last Resort.

Highlighted at the Museum is The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century Exhibit. Which all the guests were able to visit.  It showcases works by Derrick Adams and others featuring  hip hop artists including Tupac and Lil Kim.  The exhibition  opened  April 5th and will close on July 16th.  Admission to the Baltimore Museum of Art is free.