By Frankie Kujawa
Creative Alliance's Gregory Smith is like a kid in a candy store! Since becoming the third-ever Executive Director in the 26 year history of beloved arts organization back in January 2022, Smith follows in the footsteps of Creative Alliance founder Margaret Footner and Gina Caruso. The North Carolina-native arrived in Charm City from Minneapolis-St. Paul, where he worked at the Minnesota Public Radio and the Fitzgerald Theater. Smith recently chatted with us about the Creative Alliance's new Creativity Center (opening Fall 2022), upcoming events celebrating Pride, and the role of the arts in the community.
Frankie Kujawa: Could you describe your time, so far, in Charm City?
Gregory Smith: The first thing I have to say is that people in Baltimore have been very welcoming of me. That’s been amazing! People have been very generous with their time; whether it’s helping to connect me to other people or helping me to start learning the various neighborhoods of the city. It's been an interesting time! I grew up by the water. It's really wonderful to be back on the east coast and be surrounded by the harbor. I’m seeing some the amazing things that are existing in the city. I can’t wait for the full Lexington Market to reopen again. I’m like a kid in a candy store, quite honestly! (Laughs)
Frankie Kujawa: Prior to it housing the Creative Alliance, I can remember watching my first movie at that old Patterson Theater location. So, Creative Alliance is definitely a special place to me!
Gregory Smith: I will tell you, that is the first memory a lot of people will share with me. They either lived around Creative Alliance, and the Patterson at the time, or they used to go there. I sense the excitement that [The Patterson] lives on whereas a lot of historic theatres just didn’t make it through time. I’m very pleased that Creative Alliance went into this space and saved it. And it’s continuing to grow now with the addition of the Creativity Center.
Frankie Kujawa: Could you talk a little about the Creativity Center, which will be located across the street from Creative Alliance?
Gregory Smith: The Creativity Center is opening in the Fall of 2022. When I came to interview originally, in November 2021, it was quite honestly just a hole in the ground. I’ve actually put my desk in front of the window in the Patterson, so I can look across and see and celebrate. I’ve watched them put the windows in and the façade onto the building. Again, I’m like a kid in a candy store! Each day has been a new adventure. But, the wonderful thing about the Creativity Center is it will allow us to expand our programming primarily educationally. It will also allow us to expand our programming with various communities that we haven’t been able to work with, as well as expand the age ranges that we’re working, because now we’re targeting preschool through adult seniors. We’re also looking at doing new things in conjunction with the Creativity Center. The Center will have two classrooms, a teaching kitchen and a dance studio. We’re looking at things like, ‘How can we have a dance class maybe from Latin America and then go into the teaching kitchen and learn how to make some of the dishes from the country that we’re experiencing the dancing from?’ We’re also seeing what kinds of collaborations and partnerships it will allow us to form with organizations not only in the immediate area, but all over Baltimore, as well. And, also, looking at how we can serve more of the communities of Baltimore in the way that they need. I’m always about trying to learn more about the needs of a community and seeing the resources we have, and how those two things come together. That idea of partnership and collaboration is very important to me.
Frankie Kujawa: Looking at Pride in June, how is Creative Alliance gearing up to celebrate Baltimore Pride this year?
Gregory Smith: Our biggest event that we’re hosting features the performer Donnie in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of his album The Colored Section. And The Colored Section reflects on black history, identify, racism, and gay love. The album was recorded in 2002 right after 9/11. It is a really interesting album. It deals with all of those issues that were prevalent then, but are just as prevalent today. I’m very excited about that! After the concert, Donnie is going to host a late-night, soul karaoke. He’ll invite people on stage to sing with him, and I think it will be a great way to celebrate and have a good time whether you’re a singer or not!
Frankie Kujawa: What are you most looking forward to in the future regarding Creative Alliance and the Creativity Center?
Gregory Smith: The thing for me with the Creativity Center and Creative Alliance, in general, is I believe that art for art’s sake is very important. I think the more people can get out and see different types of arts, different art forms, art from different parts of the world and country – the more we expand our world view. However, I’ve always worked in the areas of arts, social justice, and social equity and I believe the arts are a great leveler of communities, and they also help us to understand our humanity. They hold a mirror up to society and ask us to challenge the status quo. I’m looking forward to bringing that lens of arts, social justice, and social equity together in expanding the work and the role of the Creativity Center and Creative Alliance in Baltimore.
Upcoming Events this June at Creative Alliance:
Saturday, June 18th | WORKSHOP | Improv Bump & Grind with GiGi Holliday
Saturday, June 18th | Gilded Lily Burlesque presents Instrumental Tease
Friday, June 24th | Donnie's "Welcome to The Colored Section" (20th Anniversary Celebration)
Friday, June 24th | Late Night Soul Karaoke Live with Donnie