We founded Clayworks as a group of 9 young potters and sculptors working at Towson University. The idea of Clayworks was born out of frustration because our instructors weren’t listening to us. They refused to include us in decisions that affected our education as artists.

Over beer and pizza we decided to start a clay community that was inclusive. It would operate by including the community in decisions, realizing that the 9 of us didn’t have the only ideas. We were better as a group. Clayworks has followed that concept since its inception 39 years ago.

There have been hard times..financially and emotionally. Sometimes it took us a little longer to remember our need to bring everyone in to the decision making process. But we always ended up there.

It brought us great energy, creative ideas, a feeling of community ownership of changes .. and funding because of these concepts.

In the beginning as young artists with a lot to lose we signed over our homes and vehicles..our assets.. as collateral for the first Clayworks building. With trust in the leadership to be good stewards of Clayworks, we never lost our properties. We were the owners of the library building until the addition was added.

We sold the property at well below market value to the non-profit … for the good of expanding Clayworks. We did it to help Clayworks grow.

All this is to say it would be the greatest irony if Clayworks fails because the current leadership refuses to understand the history and strength of Clayworks.

We implore you to listen to the community. Let them help you out of this latest crisis, as the community has done in previous bad times. You will find energy, creativity, a desire to participate in the rebirth of … and, yes, funding to get us back on our feet.

Please pause the sale of our biggest asset while we come up with a plan forward … together.

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One thought on “From Our Founders

  1. I have a history going back more than two years, of trying to intervene and alert the board of directors to what I saw as the destruction of multiple income streams at Baltimore Clayworks. Here is a detail of a fraction of the email exchanges I have had:

    On March 23, 2016 I sent this email to Kevin Apperson and the rest of the Executive Committee: Sue Langford, Susan Vernon, Laura Penza, Jane Reifler. (Shortly after I wrote this note Sue Langford stepped down in protest, and Jane and Laura were bullied into leaving and disrespected in ways no contributing member of our board has ever been to the best of my knowledge.)

    Dear Kevin and Committee Members,

    Attached is a revised version of the letter Pat and I wrote to you in advance of your most recent executive committee meeting. Pat and I respectfully request it be acknowledged and responded to before we send it to the entire board. It is out of care, regard and love for Baltimore Clayworks and its community that Pat and I have taken time to try to articulate the situation that we see at Clayworks.
    For those of you who don’t know us, both Pat and I are Associate Artists and I was the first director of community programs and the former manager of Clayworks Supplies Inc. I have also served as interim director when Deborah took a leave in 2009. I am currently on the exhibitions committee and Pat is the founder of the Mary Nyburg fund and manages that program as a volunteer. We have been affiliated with Baltimore Clayworks as artists and supporters for over twenty years.
    The meeting I attended and of which Pat and I speak in the letter was the most unpleasant event in all my years as a member of Clayworks. The allegations and insinuations were shocking and stood out in sharp contrast to the meeting I attended directly afterward at Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance with the other art leaders from local universities and colleges (MICA, Hopkins, Morgan, UB, UMBC, UMCP, Towson, ect.). Clayworks appears to be heading in the exact opposite direction of the best thinking in arts leadership as represented by Jeannie Howe and her staff; erecting silos where everyone else is dismantling them.
    Kevin, at the risk of seeming dramatic, we implore you and those you trust – be they executive committee members, knowledgeable students, former board members, community volunteers – to grasp this situation at Baltimore Clayworks and hold it with care and concern. There are people who would help. We are two, and there are others.

    Thank you,
    Blaise

    The letter:

    March 21, 2016

    Dear Kevin, the Executive Committee and Board members,

    We write to follow up on a meeting that we had with Sarah and two Board members on Friday, March 11. We had asked Sarah for an emergency meeting to raise our concerns and to hear Sarah’s point of view. She agreed and scheduled the meeting on very short notice and brought Warren Anderson and Mary Blair.

    Unfortunately the meeting was more contentious than productive. We now seek action by the executive committee to address concerns about the firing of Betsy and lack of fairness in the process. In addition we ask the Board to come up with a plan of action that will allow bringing out into the open exactly what are the range of issues and concerns facing Baltimore Clayworks in Spring 2016. And most importantly to figure out what is needed to stabilize Clayworks going forward.

    We believe that eliminating Betsy’s position without notice or cause is in direct conflict with the mission of the organization as artist centered; Betsy is as much an artist as anyone else at Clayworks; whose reputation was built by assembling a staff of the most highly qualified artists. We hear that staff morale is low; the work environment is uneasy; there is poor communication and a lack of transparency. We would like these concerns addressed and your help to overcome the damage that the recent staff firing is causing.

    We learned that Sarah is undertaking restructuring and re-organization to address the untenable financial situation. It seems clear to us that Sarah needs more support and guidance as she tries to find a way for Clayworks to stay afloat and to remain viable. Although she may be proceeding to the best of her ability, this is a huge job. At this time we fear that Sarah risks losing the confidence of the Clayworks community.

    The organization was founded on a cooperative business model where the stakeholders (artists, student interns and staff) were brought into the decision making process at all levels to work collectively for the best possible outcome for all. This kind of consensus building decision-making process inspired the hard work and dedication that made Clayworks an anchor arts organization in the City of Baltimore. Warren and Mary made it very clear to us that Clayworks’ operational model of the past is no longer viable. In their opinions, non-profits can no longer exist in this old way and Clayworks will not remain viable if drastic steps are not taken. Perhaps they believe that a more hierarchical model without consensus building, will improve financial conditions but these actions raise critical and fundamental questions: what exactly is being sacrificed in order to “survive?” What will be left that is of value to the Clayworks’ community? These important questions need to be examined publically, in our view, without such a process, the organization stands to lose all the way around.

    We believe in Clayworks and can only hope that the board, who is tasked with the fiduciary responsibility of the organization, can encourage the transparent and inclusive dialogue between the immediate stakeholders that will encourage the kind of inspired commitment to the health and well being of the organization that is responsible for its longevity and lasting impact on so many of our lives.

    The organization is in big trouble because of a series of very poor business decisions that seem all the more concerning after the way things have been handled with Betsy. Here is a list of our most immediate concerns:

    • What is the plan for the wood kiln? How much revenue did the kiln generate and will that level of revenue continue in the absence of a dedicated wood kiln operator?

    • Lack of honest discussion and transparency around impactful decisions such as to close the organization for two business days a week and move the staff to part time entry level positions

    • Micro management of committees which lead to bottle necks and the inclusion of people on committees who know very little about the field of ceramics or the history of the organization

    • The lack of professional communication, emails go unanswered, artists’ materials and requests go unacknowledged by the executive director

    • Too many campaigns asking the same artists and students to contribute too frequently, leading to donor fatigue

    • A lack of regard for input and feedback that feels disrespectful or even hostile to input

    Respectfully,

    Blaise DePaolo and Pat Halle

    ON JUNE 2ND

    Dear Kevin,
    I never received a response or acknowledgement (from you) regarding this email or the attached letter. Deborah asked me recently if I had ever reached out to you personally and I told her I absolutely had. Did you ever receive this correspondence?
    As an update two of my community art students filled out volunteer application forms this past semester, as they were instructed to by Laura Cohen before she left the organization. Neither student was ever contacted and therefore I had only one intern placed with Clayworks this semester, the fewest of all my community art partner organizations/schools.
    I am faced with many very difficult decisions regarding Clayworks and my association with it: Do I continue to include Clayworks on my community partner contact sheet if my students aren’t going to be acknowledged? Do I speak out about my horrible experiences with Clayworks the next time I’m in a meeting at GBCA and people refer to the organization in light of its reputation when I know that reputation is no longer accurate under the current leadership?
    I have no expectation that you will be able to help me answer these questions. The fact that you have never acknowledged my letter regardless of whether or not you received this email, speaks volumes.

    With great disappointment,
    Blaise DePaolo

    RESPONSE

    Blaise,
    I apologize for not getting back to you. One of the problems Clayworks has is a constant set of individual meetings between board members, staff and members of the Clayworks community, and a lack of consistency in discussing issues. This has caused huge problems and I believe we need to have a much more unified approach. I’ve met with Sarah and the executive committee and we have set up meetings with all of the board, the staff and the community members to address these issues. If you can come to the meeting with us (I will make sure of it) I would appreciate it. We have put together consistent communication about the issues we are facing and intend to share that with everyone. However if you would like to discuss these issues one on one I am open to that also. I want to say I do appreciate your support for Clayworks and It is valued. We need the community to rally around Baltimore Clayworks, especially during times of struggle. We may not all agree on the goals of the organization, but I believe everyone wants the organization to succeed.
    Also, feel free to call my cell number (443-306-5592) I am usually available in the evenings after 6 pm.

    Kevin

    JUNE 3, 2016

    Dear Kevin,
    Thank you for the immediate response. I’m sorry Kevin but I can’t ‘rally around’ an organization that disrespects me as an artist, a member, and a professor.

    Clayworks, under its current leadership, is responsible for its own struggles. I have been rallying around Clayworks by spending an inordinate amount of time writing letters, attending meetings and writing emails in an effort to help the organization, for more than a year. After Betsy was fired I asked for and attended a horrendous meeting with Sarah and two board members who disparaged everything I had to say and then asked me to rally around the organization as well. My next effort was to collaborate with Pat on that letter which I put no small amount of time into crafting, during the semester when my time was at a premium.

    Paul Derstine left Clayworks with a much improved work climate and in the black. Sarah and her business decisions, such as what happened with Betsy Laucks, has driven it steadily and surely off the cliff it is now descending. I have spoken to board members who felt deceived by her regarding Betsy’s firing. And what poor taste, you fire someone without cause or compensation and then throw them a going away party?

    I don’t have time to attend socially awkward events or micro managed meetings where my voice is neither appreciated nor respected because I am not toeing the party line. I’m sorry to be so blunt but that is how I honestly feel after what I have experienced.

    If am following you correctly, you are saying there is a larger meeting coming up such as what Pat and I asked you for in the March letter? If that is the case, please let me know when the meeting is and I will absolutely attend.
    Sincerely,
    Blaise DePaolo

    This is the last communication I have had with Kevin Apperson.

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