BY EMILY EAGLIN
DISCLAIMER: I am a filmmaker who frequented the Bell & am speaking from this perspective. This is my story of the Bell & of my campaign, it is a reflective piece for healing & moving forward. It does not necessarily reflect the experiences and feelings of everyone involved with this space & is just one story.
On a Saturday night in Baltimore, I am partying with my friends, falling in love with a community, & working the door at an event. I can dance without judgement, I can eat freshly made pizza, & I could be amongst other queer identified POC & creatives, activists, loved ones, amongst the underground. This night and nights like it seemed too good to be true. I'm unable to describe the fun and the laughs--it was much like the dance parties I'd have with my family at a young age. Free of judgement & amongst those I consider to be "my people". Good times experienced in a place of power & safety.
The following Monday morning they shut the venue down. Though Bell meant something of paramount importance to me, my mind was not with myself, but with the artists, activists, and others who could not access their belongings, studios, or even their pets. They were given an hour to vacate (many even less). I sat on my phone (getting ready to go to a class) in absolute horror as they were denied decency & humanity in this eviction.
The past two weeks have taught me so much. I admittedly stayed sad & hopeless for half an hour. I found myself outside of city limits and feeling unable to do anything at all. But then it hit me, I hadn't been 'activisting' all this time for nothing, it was time to put my indie filmmaker skills & protest training to the test. I contacted a friend, Qué Pequeño, at the Bell & immediately got to working on an urgent GoFundMe page & call-to-action before I got to class. Not knowing if we would hit our goal of $5000 within the next week, or even month, if people had my friends futures on their minds, or if my efforts were pointless--I went to class.
By the time I got out of class we had surpassed our goal, with certain artists donating up to $2000! Realizing that I had so effortlessly fallen into the grips of the myth that one woman can't make a difference I felt a mix of shame, pride, guilt, hope, love, & basically everything else. I underestimated my power & how much our community, and the world for that matter, cared about (as well as who's lives the Bell Foundry touched). Our campaign garnered the support of some of my favorite musicians and artists of all time: Abdu Ali, Future Islands, Lower Dens, Tegan & Sara, Al Rogers Jr., Dan Deacon, DDM, & more.
You Know TF Where & Me
My partner in crime on the campaign was mainly Qué. He made You Know TF Where what it was in its ability to be anonymously lit, a place for POC, & simultaneously found by those who needed it most. On this & our campaign he had this to say:
I'd personally like to thank everyone who has so far donated to the GoFundMe. This clearly shows the support people have for DIY urban spaces that marginalized groups can find refuge in. To condemn the Bell Foundry is to condemn the spirit of those who thrive despite being underrepresented, but they can't break our spirits. (Qué Pequeño)
Qué Pequeño (Photographed by Audrey Gatewood)
A Thank You
In addition to all of you who donated to our campaign, the credit of its success (in my eyes) goes to the artists, activists, creatives, and bad asses who made the Bell the space it was. I want to thank the Bell for doing everything from throwing the most lit of parties, to showing my films, to being a resource for volunteer jail support, to being a refuge for those in the trans and non-binary community. Many of these stories are still untold & though the Bell is being hailed as Baltimore's underground hub for DIY culture, its activism should not be forgotten. And while I suppose it's rare to see the masses show up for places like Baltimore's Bell (or Denver's Rhinoceropolis), to date, this is how my GoFundMe dash looks:
That's right, we've raised over 20k (and counting). And while fighting back with our pockets is extremely important, we must not forget about this deliberate act of violence on the part of the city. We creative/queer/DIY/Black/Brown/unheard artists/activists need our own spaces in a city like Baltimore & officials shutting down the Bell in the cold of Winter (versus other 'privileged' warehouse spaces under similar conditions in Station North) serves as a direct attack on our community.
SIDE NOTE: I also want to thank all the legal representatives who have reached out to me and offered their help in fighting back. I want to thank everyone who had a part in Tuesday Night's Benefit at the Metro Gallery (which raised $2000), shouts out to Kahlon & DDM for hosting it.
(Check out my archive of Bell Foundry pics, that I projected at this event, here)
I promise that this is not the last you will see of me & my fundraising/organizing efforts. And I'd like you to promise me your continued investment in the fate of these Bell Foundry Evictees. As the press moves away from these issues, we need to move towards solutions. More privileged warehouse spaces with similar (or even more plentiful) code violations will continue to exist in Baltimore, the city has promised us that the Bell will not. In these targeted instances a prime motive is to split communities up, dispersing, displacing, further gentrifying--it all serves the city at the end of the day, not the people.
The Bell Foundry, and spaces like it, made Station North the Arts District that it is. And Station North gets to keep this name in its shadow. New fancy restaurants that artists, like myself, can't afford to eat at will continue to pop-up and pour salt into these fresh, open wounds. Promise that you won't forget these times, when prices were driven up & creatives were driven out. I promise I won't & I promise to keep fighting back once the city's investigations lead to the conclusion that this raid was "justified", "lawful", "untarnished". I promise to keep making films that address these issues. I promise to keep turning up in the faces of those who want to see us fail.
More than anything I promise you to keep the spirit, love, and art created at the Bell alive. And there's no amount of fighting back that can beat the Bell still living within all of us. All those involved with my campaign and the Bell will continue to make art, to be there as a resource for anyone marginalized by the system, and to fight back by living! This living lives on in the weekly meetings had about the Bell. This living lives on in the countless friends willing to lend a hand to those without studio space. This living lives on in parties & events (such as Water, 12/17/2016) that were scheduled to be at the Bell & now are planned for the near future.
If you donated, but (IRL) do not take an active role in supporting spaces of power for artists & venues like the Bell existing, existing safely, and with the ability to profit powerfully (like they have the potential to do). We will start seeing these spaces dissappear. Warehouse culture is underground culture. As much as you may glamorize this DIY scene be warned: they always come for the underground first. With a new administration coming into power that is rooted in hatred & fear, we do not have the time for y'all to be passively supportive. This passiveness also comes into play in underestimating yourself, your power, and your influence, as I almost idiotically did.
I created the campaign as a broke film student who was starting to feel hella helpless in the wake of these events. At the end of the day I just wanted to help out my friends & all the amazing artists at the Bell that I admire and love. The helplessness lasted for about an hour on that Monday and then I knew it was time to get to work. I had lots of success on GoFundMe with funding my films in the past & I figured I would give it a shot. Nows the time to ask: what do you have in your aresnal? I'm writing this article not only for healing, but for anyone out there who might make the same mistake I did. I questioned whether it would even be worth it to create this campaign, I even hit up my friends and asked if it was worth doing. For anyone out there who sees an issue & questions if their help would make the difference; now is not the time to think twice. Now is the time to know.
Myself alongside local musician/organizer/friend Abdu Ali (Photographed by Audrey Gatewood)