The Artist Derrick Adams Has Created a Haven for Black Creatives In Baltimore

The Last Resort Artists Retreat is a new expansive creative community in Adams's hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.

The artist Derrick Addams. Photo: John Berens Studio.

Anyone who’s ever touched down in Baltimore can see, almost immediately, why it’s lovingly referred to as Charm City. From its beguiling Federal-style row houses, to its dramatic Beaux-Arts museum, to the folksy commercial thoroughfares lined with quirky, independent businesses, there’s an easygoing charm that’s impossible to deny. And yet the Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist Derrick Adams has taken it a step further, creating a Charm City within Charm City: The Last Resort Artists Retreat. The space is a sanctuary dedicated to Black creatives that encourages rest, rejuvenation, and self-reflection—a radical notion in a world that asks us to always be productive.

The project can be seen as an extension of Adams’s own art practice, which has dedicated itself to depicting Black people in times of rest and leisure. This was something he felt was missing from the art world and, thus, decided to change himself. The Last Resort, is, in some ways, the physical manifestation of the worlds Adams depicts on his canvases. The Last Resort Artists Retreat is housed in a rambling multi-floor house in the residential Waverly neighborhood, about a 20-minute walk to Johns Hopkins University. Adams acquired the property in 2019 and has since painted the home completely white, inside and out. This makes the space an ideal blank canvas not just for the visiting artists, but for the staggering collection that is on display at every turn, ranging from his own vibrant work to those of friends and colleagues, a who’s who of those who have shaped the modern Black canon: Kehinde Wiley, Mickelene Thomas, Faith Ringgold, and photos by I. Henry Phillips Sr., who captured Black life in Baltimore in the post-War years.

Outside is an expansive yard where Adams and his non-profit have held dinners, barbecues, and live-music performances meant to engage with the local arts community. A greenhouse is currently under construction and a mosaic-clad extension, called The Outpost, is a studio-like space for meetings, lectures, and the like. Recently, a neighbor sold him two adjoining lots which are currently being overhauled to create a public-facing sculpture garden, slated to open in the spring of 2025.

The Last Resort Artist Retreat in Baltimore. Courtesy of Schaun Champion

Exterior shot of The Last Resort Artist Retreat in Baltimore, founded by Derrick Adams. Photo: Schaun Champion.

Earlier this month, the iconic jewelry brand Tiffany & Co hosted a four-day summit with Adams, titled “Lift as We Climb: Black Leaders in Arts & Culture Symposium and Retreat” which brought in a half-dozen artists from various cities, working in a wide range of practices, to discuss the challenges and opportunities of being an artist in today’s environment. It’s the first part of the recently-launched social impact platform Tiffany Atrium, conceived, in part, to help connect with historically underrepresented communities, to raise awareness of their work and mentor them for futures in the jewelry design business. Last year Tiffany commissioned Adams to create the piece I Shine, You Shine, We Shine (which deftly used Tiffany blue) and was auctioned off to benefit The Last Resort Artists Retreat. It was the first step in an ongoing relationship.

Last Resort Artist Retreat Schaun Champion

Interior shot of The Last Resort Artist Retreat in Baltimore, founded by Derrick Adams. Courtesy of Schaun Champion.

In addition to an impressive art career, Adams has dedicated much of his time to giving back to the arts community in his hometown of Baltimore, teaching local creatives how to turn their art practices into commercial ventures. His mission, naturally, dovetails with that of Tiffany Atrium, which the company has broken down into three core tenets: growth, sustainability, and impact.

“This is a city with a lot of culture,” Adams told Artnet during a long conversation in the enclosed back porch of The last Resort, after a lunch with the symposium participants. “But commerce is not a primary conversation. You see a lot of raw, grassroots, creative output here.” So he envisions the Retreat not just as a place of creative rest, but a place where artists can, in a casual atmosphere, make professional contacts and build their networks.

This echoed the discussion that was happening nearby with the symposium participants in The Outpost, led by Tiffany & Co.’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Stephanie Oueda Cruz. Adams, meanwhile, ticked off the names of the impressive people who had  already dropped in: the mayor of Baltimore, the president of Johns Hopkins, Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum, the cinematographer Bradford Young, the #MeToo activist Tarana Burke, among them.

This idea of creating a place of both social and professional overlap comes from Adams’s personal experience working and building his career in New York. “I thought that, as a Black person, being social and being creative is the same,” he recalled. Back in New York in the 1990s, he worked in retail, at galleries, went to school and pursued his own practice. The alchemical mix of work and play were happening simultaneously, and it was in this environment that he found his footing as a professional artist. “The social thing you have can generate success. But you don’t want to always approach it in a way that’s so hungry, or you’ll be exhausted. But if you do it with awareness, but in a casual way, you won’t be tired.”

Last Resort Artist Retreat in Baltimore. Courtesy of Schaun Champion

Interior shot of The Last Resort Artist Retreat in Baltimore, founded by Derrick Adams. Courtesy of Schaun Champion.

Adams seems to be building something bigger in Baltimore. There’s the coming art park, but also he mentions that he recently brought Mickalene Thomas to town and she, too, was going to buy a home and start her own art-centric community project. Additionally, Adams bought a longtime dive bar, the Mount Royal Tavern, that’s spread across three floors of a townhouse—he wanted to preserve a longtime institute of the neighborhood (and, uh, owning a bar is cool).

He was also recently awarded a $1.25 million Mellon Foundation grant to start a digital archive of Black culture in Baltimore, a multi-purpose space dedicated to cataloging the breadth of Black achievements of the city. While Adams made it clear that New York—specifically Brooklyn—is and would continue to be his home, he is certainly creating a sprawling imprint on the city that helped raise him. Call it giving back, call it creating a legacy, or just call it community.

“These types of symposiums are so crucial for people to understand what the space will be used for,” he added. “And the people who come are going to be instrumental in the way that we build our community. They’ll be our stewards.”

Recently, Adams bought a house next door to The Last Resort (he can quite literally look onto the yard from its top-floor window) so he can stay nearby but also have a bit of privacy. He, too, is searching for the balance of social interaction and the downtime one needs to recharge. But he also sees it as a cord-cutting in a way, a parent letting a child go, so The Last Resort can become its own independent venture that doesn’t need him to thrive.

“When I come here, and I’m not the center attention at the table, then I’ll know that this is becoming a success,” he said. “I can’t want for the day that I walk in here, and someone else is holding court, you know? I want to walk in and watch another person of knowledge sharing what they know. Then I’ll know that we’re good.”

The Last Resort Artist Retreat in Baltimore. Courtesy of Schaun Champion

Interior shot of The Last Resort Artist Retreat, founded by Derrick Adams in Baltimore. Courtesy of Schaun Champion.

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