Current Space: Empowering Baltimore Artists with Julianne Hamilton and Michael Benevento

Rob Lee: Welcome to The Truth in This Art. I am your host, Rob Lee, and today I'm excited to welcome two distinguished guests from the Baltimore art community. First, I have an individual who is not only an artist and curator, but also the co-director of Current Space. His contributions have been pivotal in shaping the art scene in Baltimore. Accompanying him is a dynamic Baltimore-based arts organizer and designer. She is also a co-director at Current Space and plays a pivotal role on the board of the Bromo Arts District. Together, they have been instrumental in the growth and success of their Artist Run Hub, located in the heart of Bromo Arts and Entertainment District. Current Space. Please join me in welcoming the talented duo from Current Space, Michael Benevento and Julianne Hamilton. Welcome to the podcast.
Julianne Hamilton: Hi. Hi. Glad to be here.

Rob Lee: Glad to have you on. I like this sort of dual syncing where they both feel like So, um, you know, as we, we, we get started, um, I always like to open it up with sort of the, the softball question, you know, you have a do a job interview and it's like, tell me about yourself. It's a version of that, but it's a lot cooler. So, you know, before we get into like the main topics, um, I want to give you both the opportunity to, to introduce yourselves in your own words. I think how we introduce ourselves and how we present ourselves extend past the artist statement extends past. you know, what we might have in that official bio. So if you will, could you please introduce yourselves and, you know, we'll go from there.

Julianne Hamilton: You wanna go first? Sure. Hi, I'm Julianne Hamilton, co-director at Current Space, and I am an artist, a curator, an arts administrator, a booking agent, and everything else that is required at Current Space.

Michael Benevento: Yeah, I'm Michael Benevento. Yeah, likewise, I do share a lot of the organizing events and exhibitions, concerts, planning how the space functions. We've been doing a lot of gardening out back over the warmer months. And yeah, we both like to travel a lot. I grew up in Houston and came to Baltimore in 2001. Nice.

Julianne Hamilton: I'm a Marylander.

Rob Lee: Thank you. And again, like I said, it's, you know, I had most of it in there, but it was a few details that, you know, weren't in there in that initial bio. So, you know, you've, you've fleshed out what I had. So thank you for that. And before we go into, you know, deeper into sort of the ins and outs of current space and your roles and all, one of the other things I think that's important is sort of one of those like early points, like in our sort of arcs, like, hey, I remember this show that I really liked and I was like, damn, I'm going to be on stage one day or I saw this painting and that inspired me to go into, you know, the arts. So, you know, growing up or even, you know, but probably growing up, I think that's that's more of the point. Is is there an example or an experience or something that has had like a an impact on you that kind of, you know, opened your eyes to like art and creativity, performance, things of that nature? Or were there any spaces growing up that you're like, hell, yeah, I want to do this if I have the opportunity? Tell me about that.

Michael Benevento: Oh, yeah, I guess. So I guess the most related to stuff I'm doing now is I guess I spent half my childhood in Houston and half in like a suburb of Houston where there was a lot of like construction work happening and so as a teenage skateboarder and we would like raid the construction sites and build forts in the woods or like we'd build skateboard ramps and Initially, we were like, we'd put them in like, the parking lots of strip malls late at night, or like, in the, like, in the street or driveway. And eventually we built, we found like an old vacant lot with a bunch of friends. And we like cleared all the weeds and set up kind of like this like teenage skate park in the middle of like on a vacant kind of like foundation in the woods and kind of shaped similar trajectory. It was like this teen initiative that eventually got squashed by the, you know, by the city. Right. Then spawned like a lot of other like setting up skateboard ramps like impromptu and like strip malls or like Yeah, I guess like, and eventually there were like the, the township built skate parks later on after like all these kids lost their skate park that they built. But yeah, I guess like, kind of, yeah, similar, like, current space, like occupying a vacant building. And then eventually getting ownership of it. But I guess, yeah, I kind of created a similar trajectory. That's big.

Rob Lee: That's important. And I want you to go next, Julian, but I definitely want to touch on one thing in there. Like, I've mentioned sort of this in this podcast before, but, you know, sometimes it's just having the exposure and the experience around a particular thing. You know, when I was like five, right, podcasts did not exist like radio. Sure. But podcasts did not exist or just talking to people and having interesting conversations. And one of the things I always look back at, which terrifies me now as a nearly 40 year old person. is the notion of getting on stage. I was like five and I was an MC, you know, for like, you know, elementary school, preschool graduation. So just imagine me, but truncated, almost like a Funko Pop, right? Like really big glasses and just really smaller, but just going on stage. And it's something about that commanding and people listening to you. And just, I don't know, it's just, I look back on that terrified, but also like that was a fond moment. And I see sort of the crumbs, if you will, or the dotted lines to what I'm doing now.

Julianne Hamilton: Yeah, that's great. And props to you for overcoming that, I guess, and be on this kind of a stage. Neither Michael or I are super, super comfortable with public speaking.

Rob Lee: Believe it or not. It's it's a thing. I remember not too long ago being on being in front of a group of very wealthy people. And I had an award that funded a lot of last season's work. So having to like, hey, guys, you know, that money you gave me. And just looking at these, these folks that like, you're a millionaire, and I do a podcast and that and being very thankful. But I think I found sort of the just like, what do I know? You know what I mean? Like, I know how to talk about the thing that I do. And that's what kind of helped me get past it. But that was initial nerves. And I'm very tall. So I'm like, how can I make myself smaller and hide? And I think once I just kind of just didn't really think about it and just did what I knew, like just talking about my thing, it made it so much more easy for me.

Julianne Hamilton: Yeah.

Rob Lee: So for you, Julian, what any anything that comes to mind as far as like those those early like points around creativity, performance, you know, art, anything that comes to mind, you're like, yeah, that's one of those early points where I was like, Oh, I like art or hey, I like creative stuff or hey, I like performance or things of that nature.

Julianne Hamilton: Yeah, I was really lucky to grow up in a family that supported artists and like art was a part of my life as a child. My mom painted watercolors and she would always take me to museums or do lots of different arts and crafts projects with me. And those are some of my fondest childhood memories were like She'd get like the good coloring book that had like complicated designs and like the big box of crayons. And we could like each take a page of that coloring book, left or right. And then I would show them to my dad and be like, okay, which is better, me or my mom? And I can't imagine how he answered that. Who was he gonna pick? I'd be like, he probably picked me out because he just had to. I'm saying I'm better. And I took it seriously. That's great. Something else I think about an early memory that I see I see more now was also as a teenager going to different places where like bands could play like see other. I guess other teenagers bands really, maybe college students bands, but that like DIY spirit and having a place to go and seeing what that meant for both like friends who were in bands playing, having somewhere to perform, but also having this community space for ourselves. You know, now that I'm doing current space, I can, I just think about that more and how valuable that was and how lucky I was to have that in my town. in the suburbs and in Arundel County.

Rob Lee: It's fantastic. And shout out to the throwback coloring books. I still have a lot of coloring books in the studio. I'm recording for that currently. And I have some of my old art books. When I was younger, we didn't have a lot of artists in our family. I had like an uncle I never met. He passed before I was born. And he did like commercial art. And it was just like, oh, I'm going to paint this billboard in the late 70s. I was like, oh, wow, this is we have an artist here. And and unfortunately, none of his like stuff was there that I could kind of like go back and see. So I was kind of learning on my own of like what I was interested in. I was always a doodler, always sketching, always rushing through my test, taking my B so I can draw for the rest of the class. And every year, and I still have these books, every year my other uncles or my grandmother would get me either art supplies, like here's an art book, how to draw comic characters or color pencils and things of that nature. and they're in the studio to this day. So like 30 plus years of being able to track, like you always been creative. You always have been around it and interested in it.

Julianne Hamilton: It's great to have that archive too.

Rob Lee: Yeah. So I want to move into a bit about like current space. So for those who are undipped, because, you know, this podcast is kind of everywhere, like, you know, a few other places. So for those who are undipped, What is current space? Mission feels weird. You know, I don't know if I like that word. Seems too corporate-y. But what is current space and what is the mission? For those who are undipped and unfamiliar.

Michael Benevento: Oh, I mean, I guess we've been in this building since 20… I have no idea.

Julianne Hamilton: You're jumping too deep. I've never even heard of it. What even is it? Is it a…

Michael Benevento: It's a gallery space and outdoor performance space and studios. And recently we added a bar function to the outdoor performance space.

Julianne Hamilton: And this year, 2024, is our 20th anniversary of existing, which is pretty exciting. Yeah. And our mission. Go ahead.

Michael Benevento: I guess like in the gallery space, we run exhibitions about every month, month and a half, typically the rotation and then outdoors in the summer months, about half the year. Half the year, spring, summer, fall, we'll run. performances from some of its music, some of its theater, fashion shows, poetry readings, and book readings, all kinds of stuff, intentionally trying to create a variety of programming.

Rob Lee: Oh, yeah, I I was able to visit twice in the last like few months. I was there for, I believe, a fantasy machine and my partner's kid walked in one of the shows. So that was really cool to kind of be there, post it up. I was like, yeah, fashion. We love it. And enjoying sort of the the bar set up as well in the food trucks. It was like it was a great night. It's a great night. That's a great catfish. Great show. Great art. And even being there for sort of the gallery side as well, I was there with one of my friends, Adiel. And it's a great sort of place and it definitely speaks to, at least from my vantage point, this is a Baltimore place. This has multiple things and it attracts multiple people. And that's the thing that really sticks out for me about current space. what in kind of looking back a bit in that that 20 year history, sort of like what has been sort of the I guess the impact and sort of supporting both the local scene and even sort of like international artists, I would imagine, like, you know, Baltimore has a lot of talent that comes in that it doesn't get a lot of juice and representation around. But I see like so many dope people who have connections at current space. So speak a bit about that.

Michael Benevento: I mean, I guess being around so long, we've worked with people over the years multiple times and kind of created a history. And it's, I think, you know, some people who lived here moved away. And then when they come back to a town, they'll want to do stuff here and vice versa. When people are, I guess, with the performances, when people are touring, they kind of like will pair up with somebody local and that'll build relationships so that when the person hears touring they'll have like a connection when they go to other towns.

Julianne Hamilton: You kind of do that in the gallery as well. You know, if we're showing if we are showing an international or national artist, we'll also definitely want to show an artist from Baltimore and kind of create those connections and also bring different audiences together. And then even just having the gallery open at the same time as outdoor programming, that really creates different crowds for both events.

Rob Lee: Yes, it's definitely like, you know, he's in the Ghostbusters reference. I was crossing the streams here and that, you know, in seeing like when I was there, like, you know, in those two instances, like I think it was just like you guys just happened to be open when I checked out. like the gallery space and I was looking at the different like work from people I was like interviewed them interviewed them interviewed them and then you know being able to attend in a you know the the fashion show and having a whole audience of people that I don't really know that I want to know that I'm seeing like interesting work and You know, I wear Carhartt in like dirty jeans. You know, I don't I don't know fashion, you know what I mean? But seeing people that are makers and they're creating and seeing sort of this avant garde and this whimsy that is in this kawaii thing that's there. And I'm like, oh, OK, this is an area that I need to be more aware of and try to, like, open up a bit. And that comes from being there, being there in that environment, in that scene.

Julianne Hamilton: That's awesome. That's such a, we love that event. That was the, this past year was the fifth year for Fantasy Machine. It's a fashion show that Meg Beck puts together and it just gets better every year. This past year was the first time we had two shows because it was so popular the year before that we were like, oh, we better have like an early show and a late show. We had to turn people away the year before.

Rob Lee: I mean, I was able to get an exclusivity, exclusivity, exclusivity. Thank you. So touching on that actually a little bit more, like what is the, I guess, like the approach when it comes to sort of collaboration and working within the various scenes? Because, you know, it is a space and there is like sort of timing of like, all right, we can only really do this. This person might have worked this out that's really great, but we can only really do this at this time or even in doing this for, you know, using this as an example, this podcast. You know, two years ago, I put out three hundred and thirty three episodes. It's almost episode a day. Last year, 170. This year, I plan to do about 180. And it's just like it's a time commitment. It's energy. It's a resources thing. And I have to really think through that process. It could be all great conversations, very interesting conversations, but all don't don't really fit. What is that sort of like criteria that comes into mind as far as like events and showcasing work and things of that nature?

Michael Benevento: I mean, I guess there's like a lot of we do studio visits and like organize shows, but we also take a lot of proposals in both the gallery space and the outdoor performance space and work with other organizations that will like, like we work with Black Cherry Puppet Theater and they'll do their puppet slam, which, you know, twice a year. Yeah. In addition to stuff that they do at their own space, kind of like helping provide a space for others as well. And then a couple of times a year, we'll also have programming meetings where we work with other, like, there's a number of people who volunteer and are interested in coming into doing programming sometimes. And so we'll kind of get feedback from them as well.

Julianne Hamilton: We were able to do a lot more programming in the last couple of years than all the years before, at least outdoor programming, because we got a liquor license in 2019 and also live entertainment permits were finalized.

Michael Benevento: So that really streamlined things, because previously we would get a special event license for each event, which It was very time consuming to navigate the permit process, it would take like you know like a week or two of going to the permit office almost every day. And now we just kind of have that permission ongoing so that kind of cuts that step out so instead of. And like that process, also limited to doing like two a month. Now we can do like as many as we want that we can keep up with, which has been about three or four a week over the summer.

Julianne Hamilton: But Gallery is a little different, though, because we had kind of a similar experience to what you're describing with your podcast cadence, where we We wanted to have our exhibitions up a little longer because it used to be more like up for just like four weeks and then change over.

Michael Benevento: That was like when the space first started, where it was like a month to month lease on a vacant city on building. And so we were trying to jam in as much programming as possible. So our shows were like. like three or four weeks with like five days in between and so it's pretty fast turnaround. And then we're kind of like realizing like oh our show's coming down before like.

Julianne Hamilton: Everybody can even see them or press can possibly write about them or. It just seemed like it's too much work to put the show up and pull it down that quickly. And so it was sort of a conscious decision to want to be able to invest a little more time into each show. But then it's really hard because we look at the calendar and we're like, man, that's how many exhibitions we can have. And that's it. Like, like, how do we pick and we do everything? And I think that process is really challenging deciding which exhibitions to ultimately have. And it there's so many more great proposals and artists who we would love to work with every year than we can show. And we do kind of prioritize like diversity and variety. So it could be like, well, that person's their work is really great, but we already showed like two painting shows in a row and really want to show something else. this coming month or kind of considerations like that.

Rob Lee: That's that's that's super important to have sort of this diverse array of, you know, creativity of of artists. I mean, when you know having these conversations behind the scenes about you know who's getting funding for instance who's getting opportunities it's kind of like you know some certain pockets believe oh yeah let's just you know have this visual artist up there we're just going to have paintings and that's going to be it and then let's say you know, people who do, let's say, dance or movement art or even like a podcast. Like, I'm not an artist. I'm not even considered in the conversation. But folks feel like they're not getting those sort of opportunities. So having something that is like a transparent that we are considering, you know, just various different types of people who do creative disciplines and that fit within this this rubric. I think that's really cool. And, you know, going back to that sort of the crossover, You know, it's like people who like paintings, they may not want to see a different type of or they may not encounter sort of someone who does maybe a different discipline. But being able to have that and have the space as that sort of focal point and bringing folks there is like, oh, I know that they always have good stuff here. So let's see this other thing that I might not know about. Oh, now I'm suddenly into this new thing that I didn't know about. Thanks, current space.

Michael Benevento: Yeah, and also like the people creating things, they're also like might be in an exhibition and then like meeting other artists in different disciplines or their influence each other and like might be in a variety show the next, yeah, the next week. And like, kind of like encouraging that blurring of practices with like people making things as well.

Rob Lee: Yeah, collaboration and the DIY thing, especially here is is big. It's just it's just baked in, you know, to like the things that we do is like, I'm going to figure it out. It's going to happen. And, you know, so. current spaces right there in Bromo and the Bromo Seltzer like area, Bromo Arts District. And, you know, whenever I see like spaces, I'm always like, I hope it's something cool if I haven't been in there before. And then when I go in, I was like, OK, cool. And this is one of the reasons why I was like, I got to reach out. We got to get this interview. We got to make this happen. And how does it feel like? What are some of the advantages and the experiences of being there in, you know, one of the one of the art districts, for one, but sort of right there downtown, right there on that? You know, there's been an investment and focus in that area, I'll say, over the last few years. COVID's been a been a been a piece of it. But over the last few years, what has that experience been like?

Michael Benevento: I mean, it's changed a lot. I mean, only in the last few years, I guess we moved into this building in 2010 and when we moved in like a lot of the buildings around us were vacant and we kind of watched the buildings around us collapsing. I mean like when a couple years after being here we felt like the floors from the building next to us fall in like an earthquake and like the elevator shaft fall off of a building into the alleyway. And now a lot of the buildings around us are like construction sites or like apartment buildings. And so it's kind of, I guess, drastically changed the last few years.

Julianne Hamilton: This current was in this location before the Bromo Arts District was designated. I think that having being in the Arts District is like, wonderful. I'm actually on the board of the Bromo Arts District. And I think that the Bromo District has done a great job of bringing these spaces together and letting people know that they're all here in this concentration. Because Baltimore is such a city of artists in general. But, um, I think things like the Bromo Art Walk, which happens twice a year, really let people come out and see how much is going on right around us. And I think also it's really helpful that the Bromo Art District provides funding to spaces for that. They don't just suggest, it would be great if you did something. They actually provide the means for spaces to do it, because a lot of these spaces are more DIY spaces. having that funding lets them actually, like, facilitate, like, really special free programming on those days.

Michael Benevento: Artists stipends, like, a lot of the spaces are volunteer run. And so like, if there's funding, like the artists performing can just get a flat rate versus like charging an admission to get paid.

Rob Lee: And I think sort of like the two of you being artists being, you know, around that kind of having that perspective, like in doing, you know, this podcast and doing things that are offshoots of it, you know, the. It's like you guys, you know, that are in these sort of offshoots. It's like it's hyper professional, it's hyper this, it's hyper that. And that support isn't there. It's like you're left to your own devices. And it's like, I'm bringing the audience and bringing the idea. I'm bringing the programming. It's like I always do a lot of things. And, you know, being there, it just kind of like. really not wanting to leave when I was at a fantasy machine and want to just hang out longer. I was like, actually, I would like to do an event here. You know, that's the way that I was looking at it versus, hey, you know, we have this lighting. It's like, no, no, no. DIY is more of my speed. This is more of my setup. You're around the people and you're with the people. There's a bar. And this place looks really cool. It feels like there's creativity here versus this buttoned up thing that just kind of is, it's a term that I use called artificial vibes. Those places feel like artificial, whereas, you know, my experience at Current Space, it hasn't. It feels like this is like a real vibe. This is a real like energy. And the people that are supposed to be here are here. And this is dope.

Julianne Hamilton: Thank you so much. It's something we think about a lot, actually. Whenever we go to a space where we're like, man, this place, it's brand new. It has- It has nice stuff, but it feels feral. Somebody really cared about the arts here. They really wanted to make this work. And yeah, but if it doesn't feel right, we're like, why is that? And how do we make sure we don't do that? It seems like the worst case scenario to have more funding and come out with the, worse outcome. I think it's for us at least.

Michael Benevento: I think it's like it's only time I think that you can't it's just like it's not only that I think because like we for most of our operations we were like a volunteer run space um and it was more like problem solving how to like how can we get money to pay for things? Whether it's just to exist, pay the utility bills, pay artists, how do we buy our own time so that we don't have to work other jobs was a more recent thing. And also create jobs for other people to be here as well. Part of getting a liquor license was to um we're able to like hire other artists to be bartenders and like we're able to like do events that like like wouldn't necessarily generate enough money like like doing a poetry reading like we're not going to make a ton off of like charging admission but we could sell alcohol at it and at least make something that we could like pay for staffing and supplies and stuff and like pay the um give like a stipend

Julianne Hamilton: I think like when you're talking about like vibe and how you feel in a space though it like so much of that is like you can you can just like tell if someone cared about that place in on a personal level and like brought yeah it's like problem solving on like how these things can exist rather than like creating this like I guess it's more like problem solving how to like yeah

Michael Benevento: like how the programming can exist versus like how do you add programming to like this like tool that you created, you know?

Rob Lee: I hear you. And, you know, there I'm on a board at a place. And, you know, it's it's definitely the license is important, is super important. And because it just opens up sort of because we all run into sort of the the cash flow challenges or how can we do this? We can we afford to do X amount of shows or something that It might not be like the poetry readings example. It might not be the biggest driver. Or you suddenly have to have sponsorship with someone who sucks because you need to pay for a certain thing. that liquor license for sake of argument or even like a screening options, I do movie nights on occasion, just having something that is definitely a magnet and did something that will keep folks there and have them having that vibe, having that good time and enjoying the space. And I think even like having a liquor license for sake of argument. You can just say like, look, we're going to have drink specials that are aligned with the theme of this artist's work, for instance, or the theme of the show or whatever it might be and get really creative and people can show off their Epicurean skills, if you will, behind the bar. And I think it opens up so many different opportunities to see people do their stuff and realize certain ideas. When I look back at the first season of this podcast, I had a friend on who made cocktails and they'd been a bartender in the city in various places. And we were just talking heavily about sort of the artistry of making a really good cocktail and being the improvisation in it and all of these different things. briefly, we had like a special cocktail that I would get. And it was just like pre-made batch style. You know, this is 2020. I'm like, send it over, send it over. This is great. You know, a mojito with CBD in it is amazing.

Julianne Hamilton: I got pretty deep into that this past couple of years since we got the license. I didn't really know very much about bartending before that. I'd like bartended at a Japanese like hibachi restaurant in maybe 2010 or 11 and that for like six months. And that was it. And then we were like, cool, let's have, let's open a bar as part of our art space. What should our drinks be? Like got a ton of different books about it and just began experimenting. And I feel like I reached like a, new level this past year making like a milk punch, which was more, more technical, I guess, had like a lot more planning to go in and do it. But I think all of our bartenders are artists as well. And they, I think,

Michael Benevento: I think it's like their fun day. Yeah. My friends won't come visit me at my other job, but like here they can like hang out with me at work. Like also like watching some of the shows and seeing some of the shows to either. And coming up with like coming up with like drink specials on the fly. And and events to like some of them have organized events. Yeah.

Julianne Hamilton: And like, yeah, they're also contributing programming.

Michael Benevento: But I think that's like been a shift because like when we first started it was more like It was like a gallery space, like we used to be on Calvert Street and it was like a gallery space. And then we had studios upstairs and we just kind of like divided all the expenses between everybody. And it was kind of like the studio subsidized just the gallery space. And then we kind of, I guess over time it kind of like shifted models where we have studios, but It's more of like, they're subsidized. It's more like an amenity that we offer. We're able to like, I mean, that kind of just paid like pays for BGE. And we're able to like, I think having like A range of sources has allowed us to do more experimental programming. There's also memberships where people donate $5 to $25 a month. And then we also apply for grants, the liquor license, and the studios. And there's also art sales. But having that variety of sources allows us to not be like limited as far as like a lot of the programming that we're able to do.

Rob Lee: It's dope. It's good. Which it kind of shifts me into this next question and I think it's an interesting question where When we're doing so many things, and you both have talked about all of the hats, Julianne, you're wearing a hat currently. With all of the hats that we wear, we're picking up other skills that kind of flushes also to the toolbox. Like, you know, I I kind of am self-taught when it comes to this audio stuff, right? I've had to learn how to do some web design because I can't afford one and things of that nature. So, you know, what would you say are some of the skills like that you've been able to kind of pick up that, you know, in booking and working with folks and sort of, you know, curating maybe different types of events than you thought you'd ever curate before and things of that nature or shows, for instance, and things of that nature? Like, what are some of those skills that you've picked up just out of necessity that you've you've had to to kind of keep current space like rolling and putting out this ever changing, very interesting. And I dig it. Like, you know, chatting with you has just been been great so far. But what are some of those skills you picked up?

Julianne Hamilton: Big list, get ready.

Michael Benevento: Yeah, there's so many. I mean, in addition to just like the programming, there's like, I guess, in 2017, So our first building we were in it for about five years and this one we were in it since like 2010 and they were both city-owned buildings that were vacant and like the first one it was like an RFP that the city put out for artists to occupy and like after when the building was going to get demolished we had to move out and that so when we came here we were like how do we not get pushed out again um and so that was the building here went up for like developers to bid on it with the rest of the block. And so we're kind of like, what is a developer? And like, what is this language? And so we talked to one of our friends who, Marian Glebes, she helped us, like, she used to work for Mike Schechter and Station North and helped us navigate some of the, like,

Julianne Hamilton: Even just the language. I was like, what is a soft cost? How can I list my soft costs? What does this mean? This is a foreign language.

Michael Benevento: Coming up with a performer. Just like, what are the

Julianne Hamilton: What is a proforma? Google, Google proforma. Courses and uses. Yeah. Yeah. Buying the building and basically becoming a real estate developer in a way was a huge, a huge new hat that was occupied a lot of our energy for probably like four years.

Michael Benevento: Yeah. Like learning how to talk to banks and architects and structural engineers and like contractors.

Julianne Hamilton: That's not a hat I ever thought I would, I would put on.

Michael Benevento: Yeah, and that was, yeah, navigating fire safety stuff and to like,

Julianne Hamilton: Yeah. You also do a lot of things with the building itself. Yeah. There's a lot of things that like what we had, like the plumber came to do some work on the bar and he looked at like what Michael had already done and he was like, nah, you just do it. I'm not going to do this. He's like, you can do it. You don't need me. Yeah, it was.

Michael Benevento: I mean, a lot of it, I mean, a lot of, I guess, early on, we were, you know, we couldn't afford to do a lot of the things. And so like, are the sprinkler pipe that for like, the fire sprinklers ruptured under the parking lot was causing a sinkhole. So we had to like, you know, most, it's not like a plumber thing or a, like, or like a normal sprinkler company that would do that. There's like very specialized people who would do it, but they charge a lot. They're like, they're kind of, you know, if we come out, we're like 900 an hour and like, and like, and so I was like, well, like, what if I dig it up myself? And then you just put the little clamp on.

Rob Lee: And it's like, what I'm hearing is such the vibe of like, I like I am about a few weeks removed from when I first bought my house and my house was a full. And, you know, moving in, everything is new, quote unquote. I'm like, this was a flip. So, you know, what was the care and attention here? And, you know, you're buying your first thing and I'm trying not to have the anxiety and all of that stuff of someone's going to hop my fence and steal my heat pump and all of that stuff. Right. I remember, because I'm not cheap, but I am very oriented around, there's a solution to this that's not the one, the fear-based one of like, if you don't do this, everything is gonna blow up in your face. And I remember, this is so ridiculous. I checked with a few different people. I got one of those cages that you put around the heat pump, and I ended up ordering it from Florida and having it shipped up. And then I bought a hammer, what is it? a hammer drill and I bolted it to my my pad itself. Yeah. Being about three hundred and fifty dollars for the full setup. And I got to keep the drill. And the average quote I was getting was nine fifty twelve hundred dollars to do the exact same thing. And I was like, I'm confident I could just do this. So anything that comes up at home, unless it's like electrician electricity or something like that, it's a little can be dangerous. I'm like, I'm confident that I can do that. I feel like I picked that skill up and having the confidence to, you know, kind of figure it out. And it's, in essence, my baby. But the thing that is odd, if something were to happen, it not only affects my, like, living situation, but it affects my, like, creative situation, because both of these things are nested in this one place. Yeah.

Julianne Hamilton: Yeah. Home ownership and building ownership.

Michael Benevento: I mean, that shifted to like when we, before we, you know, when we were on a month to month lease, it was kind of like, how much should we spend on the building?

Julianne Hamilton: Like, um, any month it could be taken away.

Michael Benevento: And like, so like the first building we were in was in better shape. This, the building we're in now was, it had been vacant for like, it was a temp agency before we moved in. Um, or it was vacant for like a year before before that, but before that, it was a temp agency. And it was like, there's a lot of weird work on it. And like, the roof was, was shot. And it was just like, you know, we've just been like patching it and just kind of like, Oh, well, this, we just won't use this room anymore, it leaks in this room. So that kind of changed the dynamics a lot to go like, if we can, if we're not going to get like pushed out in a month like we could like invest more and like the it's like oh we had and we also like when we got the building we got a grant to replace the roof and like improve the fire safety and stuff like that and so it was like we could which also like replacing the roof allowed us to like open up more studio spaces because we no longer had to like not have the leaky room that we store chairs in or whatever.

Rob Lee: That's different watercolors right there, I guess. It is like when I look around like Baltimore and and I'm just really happy that that you two are making it happen. You know, if I'm being really honest about it, because I look around Baltimore and I see, you know, like I'm in East Baltimore and I see like stuff that's just closed. And as I touched on earlier, when I see something like new construction, I'm like, I hope it's cool. I hope it's not like, you know, loft style living. And it kind of bugs me when it does turn into that. I want it to be something where I like to go out. I like to see things. I like to, you know, I don't say it as a bit, you know, it's real. When I talk about this podcast, it's arts, culture and community. I want to see those things intersect. And I think that's that's at the root of current space for me. Like, that's what I think of when I think of current space. And I see like places that are, you know, opening and then it might not be on solid foundation, but you two are making it happen. So I applaud you for that of like, you know, 20 years strong. So shout out to y'all. So I got like one sort of like real last real question. And then I got these rapid fire questions. And the last real question goes a little something like this. What are we what's on the horizon? I guess, you know, this is January. So we're right at the beginning of the year. What's on the horizon? Like, what are you excited for in in twenty twenty four in this 20th year?

Michael Benevento: I mean, we're planning like anniversary events all year, not just one.

Julianne Hamilton: Yeah.

Michael Benevento: And just, I guess, planning out the exhibition schedule and figuring out like how programming the outside. I mean, last year was the first year that we had the whole season from April through October being the season. And so just kind of like figuring out, like learning from that and like trying to figure out how we should structure it.

Julianne Hamilton: I'm excited about a lot of the things that we're going to be able to bring back this year because last year, because it was that first full season was so much like things happening for the first time. And there were things that were coming back to but there were a number of like things that might happen on like a monthly basis. like a 16 millimeter film night or a different poetry reading or a variety show. And now it's like feels really good to be able to unlike this week, I'm sending out emails to all those people like, all right, that was awesome. Like, I hope you're still in to do it again next year. Like, what should our schedule be? And to kind of be able to start the year with so much more.

Rob Lee: um established programming and then and then like be able to fill in from there from that point and then like kind of scrambling is going to feel really good that's that's wonderful i mean having once you've gone through it and and i say that in doing this like you know i could talk to someone who's just like i got nothing bro and i'm like we're gonna get a cool conversation out of this or And in these instances where, you know, and I've said this and just when people ask me, like, what was the thing that you were super happy about or excited about in this podcast or what are the interviews that stick out? And, you know, I did this month of interviews around like jazz music and it was something I was trying to do for about three years for almost the duration of the podcast until I actually accomplished it. So, when it comes to doing something that's hyper curated, like I did 12 interviews across Baltimore, Philly, New Orleans, and DC for jazz musicians and jazz champions. And I was like, oh, I can put together a month that has a theme and I can do it in multiple cities because I've done it. And having that sort of evidence, that referential like evidence, like, oh yeah, I can do this. We'll put together programming. When I think at another venue in Baltimore, I did like monthly movie nights and I would book me and someone that was related to the film. So we did movies that were in Baltimore and were filmed in Baltimore. We did This one movie hit a state, the Chris Rock movie, and obviously he's running for office and all of this stuff. I had a political strategist on stage talking about that with me. And I'm like, I'm confident I can put together something that's going to hit an audience with my own weirdness. So having that, you know, exposure and that that sort of confidence around that must feel really good.

Julianne Hamilton: Yeah, it's great. Yeah.

Rob Lee: All righty. So thank you. This is this has been good. This has been really good. Now it's going to get bad. It's rapid fire. So this is the rapid fire portion of the podcast. Got a few questions, you know, and as I tell everyone, don't overthink these questions. You know, what you said is what you said, you know, so, you know, and you're on time to just, you know, kidding. So here's the first one.

Julianne Hamilton: Wait, who's going to answer first? If it's rapid fire, I mean.

Rob Lee: Or we could do, since you two are a team, you know, that's the thing, that's the thing, you two are a duo. You can say, bing, buzzer, or whatever, you know? And in the form of a question, okay. However you guys want to go with it, I'm fine with it, I'm good with it. This is weird.

Julianne Hamilton: It's a race.

Rob Lee: For the taste here, it's fine. So this one is going to be pretentious, but I think it's funny. How do you stay current?

Michael Benevento: Oh, you go ahead, Michael. I mean, we we work with mostly living artists. And like. Yeah, I guess we're constantly and also like reflecting on what we do, too. There's like we're like, yeah. Doing yeah, I guess. Yeah.

Julianne Hamilton: Yeah. We almost exclusively. There's a there's a there's a Really sad exception, right? Right now, we are actually, we just hosted last Sunday, the memorial for Elena Johnston, who was a good friend of ours, and also an artist who had a studio at current space. And we have her work up right now. And we actually just decided that we're going to keep it up. So when this podcast comes out, if anyone listening wants to come by and see Elena's work, it'll be up. um, for a few more weeks, but that's a pretty rare exception to that living artist role where usually we want to really be supporting people who can be directly benefiting from that, that support. And, and also like showing work that they're making right now, um, as far as how far out we're booking things and whatnot.

Rob Lee: Thank you. So earlier, the traveling was mentioned as a thing, as an interest. So I want to travel more. I've traveled and I always do certain things when I travel. Like, you know, as my partner says, she's like, where's the rosé? I need the coffee. I don't keep up the roam. That's her. Me, I'm I'm the same, you know. So. When you're traveling, you're visiting a new place, sort of what is the first thing or within that that list of first things that you got to do? Let's say you've checked in and all of that stuff. You've done all of the required things. But is it I got to find like, you know, where the coffee shop is, where are the museums, where is the bars or whatever it is? I look for the gayborhood because I think it's a confluence of all of that stuff. But what is the first thing that you do when you're traveling to a new place?

Michael Benevento: You're like, before even getting there, there's spreadsheets.

Julianne Hamilton: But what you just said about the neighborhood, we do look for arts districts and maybe like contemporary art spaces, and if we make that, if there's say a space that someone's recommended, and this would be more, you know, for city travel, but if we're checking out a cool gallery and if they if you go there first you can also ask people there like what else is cool now that I'm at one like kind of cool spot like where would dinner what are you what's happening tonight and we've seen that happen here too like I there's one time these um these like German people came through they just found us on

Michael Benevento: do DIY. They're like squatter punks, like wolfing across the U.S.

Julianne Hamilton: And they just walked in. We were open and and then they were like, what else is in Baltimore? And and I don't know, we just like have chatting with them and they're staying at our house for a few days.

Michael Benevento: And then we went to we stayed with our friend in New York and they came with us and we slept at their their house. And so

Julianne Hamilton: There's a whole… Okay, no, we haven't ever, like, gone to another city with somebody based on, like, visiting a gallery, but we have, um… I guess you find, like, similar personalities, too.

Michael Benevento: Like, this is, this person reminds me of, like, this person from Baltimore, too.

Julianne Hamilton: Okay, but we got in trouble with that once because we went, we were in Iceland and we We were like waiting in line to get a slice of pizza after the bar is closed. So like everyone leaves, pours out, goes into this line for pizza and we're in line. And the person in front of us, we start chatting with him and he has a recording studio and he like reminds us of our friend here who has a recording studio. And in my in our mind, he's like, yeah, it's like, oh, that's just like that's our friend. But like this version of him in Iceland. So like we already know him and

Michael Benevento: He's like, I'm having a party at my, in my, in my recording studio. Do y'all want to come?

Julianne Hamilton: We're like, yeah, of course. Sounds great. And so we go with him and then it's like, well, it's not a party. It's just us. That's kind of weird.

Michael Benevento: And it's, it's like, not really in the city. It's like near the airport.

Julianne Hamilton: I'm pretty proud of the city and this person actually like isn't Jared. It's actually a stranger. We're in the outskirts of the city and we're the only people and like.

Michael Benevento: And he kept talking about how like he's like, there's like no crime in Iceland, but like.

Julianne Hamilton: But I'm not Icelandic, I'm German. There's only one murder a year. I come here once a year. I was like, is this a quiz? Is this like an actual horror movie where he's going to give us three strikes and then we're out?

Michael Benevento: And his sweater had skulls on it.

Julianne Hamilton: Yeah.

Rob Lee: I showed you guys all of the signs.

Julianne Hamilton: What are you doing? So we left. On many other times, like we have made made friends and form connections by checking out an art space as one of our first stops outside of our spreadsheet list, of course.

Rob Lee: That's really great. That's that's that's amazing. So I got I got I got I got two more. So you touched on pizza a second ago, and I happen to have this question in here. What is your favorite pizza topping? If you could only pick one, what is the topping?

Michael Benevento: That's a combination count? You're cheating.

Julianne Hamilton: I think a Hawaiian with jalapenos. Hawaiian regular.

Rob Lee: OK, I'll accept that. That's the style that that makes sense. Yeah, I'm here for it. I I have if I ever get into a space like I've had coffees named after me and cocktails named after me or the podcast, what have you. I want to get to a spot where I have a pizza named after me. Very pretentious pizza order. It's fake healthy. It's like broccoli, spinach, blue cheese, extra cheese. That's just your stomach is having having questions. Who must I talk to? That's great. Hawaiian, I'm here for it. So, okay, this is the last one. If you could have one superpower, and let's not be smart asses here. If you could have one superpower, what would superpower be? Flying.

Julianne Hamilton: Not me. Whenever I have dreams about flying, I'm always flapping like a chicken. And it's like really hard work. So I feel like if I wished for that, that's somehow what I would end up with. So exhausting, flapping around. I just flew away from Iceland.

Rob Lee: Boy, are my arms tired.

Julianne Hamilton: I just… Yeah, yeah. Flying's a good one, though. Maybe just more like… More like what's the Harry Potter operating?

Rob Lee: Okay.

Julianne Hamilton: I don't even want to fly. Don't fly. Just like pop to a new place. I guess that kind of ties into travel too.

Rob Lee: I went invisibility because I enjoy the tea. You know, I was like, Oh yeah, just here. Oh, what'd you say? Who's that large shadow right there that's invisible? What's this? So that's pretty much it. You guys are off the hot seat for this rapid fire portion. It's a lot of fun, a lot of fun there. So as we close out, one, I want to thank the both of you for coming on and making the time. We got it. We made it happen. And two, I want to invite and encourage you in these final moments to share the social media, the website, all of that good stuff for folks to follow and check out Current Space. So the floor is yours.

Julianne Hamilton: Sure, you can find us at current on Instagram at current space. We have a Uh, in our Lincoln bio on Instagram or on our website, you can find information about how to become a member. Uh, gallery hours over the winter are generally on Saturdays, but check our website, uh, Saturdays from one to 5 PM, but check our website to make sure that there is an exhibition up. And once the weather warms up, we'll be open again, uh, from Wednesday through Saturday from five to 11 PM, typically, but. That's again, so to check the website, there's certain nights of the week that we have admission events, other nights are free, but that's all on our calendar.

Rob Lee: And there you have it, folks. I want to again thank Michael Benevento and Julianne Hamilton from Current Space for coming on and sharing a bit about their journey and their perspectives. And I'm Rob Lee saying that there's art, culture, and community in and around your neck of the woods. You've just got to look for it.

Creators and Guests

Rob Lee
Rob Lee
The Truth In This Art is an interview series featuring artists, entrepreneurs and tastemakers in & around Baltimore.
Michael Benevento
Michael Benevento
Michael Benevento is an artist, curator and Co-director of Current Space. Born in Houston, he moved to Baltimore in 2001 to study at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and joined Current Space in 2005. Michael spends most of his time sculpting a multidisciplinary space for artists.
Current Space: Empowering Baltimore Artists with Julianne Hamilton and Michael Benevento
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