Peek Inside The Copy Cat Building: Where Baltimore Artists Work — And Live : The Picture Show A former factory is still, in a sense, a factory. But these days the product is art, and the producers are the tenants.
NPR logo Peek Inside The Copy Cat Building: Where Baltimore Artists Work — And Live

Peek Inside The Copy Cat Building: Where Baltimore Artists Work — And Live

When inventor William Painter set up the Crown Cork and Seal Co. in a Baltimore building at the end of the 19th century, he might not have known that his little creative idea — the Crown Cork bottle cap — would became a worldwide standard for the beer and soda industries.

And doubtful he could have predicted what would become of the building. Stroll by it today and the people walking in and out of the massive establishment are keeping that spark of creativity alive — but in a very different way.

These days, it's known as the Copy Cat building. The name is a lingering legacy of Copy Cat printing, which also once operated there. And it is something of a landmark in the Baltimore arts community. The former factory is now rented as studio lofts and affordable living space for artists — "a centerpiece of the Charles North Arts and Entertainment district" (now the Station North Arts and Entertainment District), writes the Baltimore City Paper.

Residents are free to design their loft spaces as they choose. In any given room you might find a skate ramp, a band rehearsing, a photo studio, a sculpture in progress. But also beds and couches and fridges. For the past few decades, artists have hosted gallery openings and parties, played music and performed plays there, among other happenings.

"An amazing amount of bands that are very, very popular and are significant to cultural history have been through this building," says current resident Alex Wein. Dan Deacon, for example, is one musician who has come and gone through the halls and walls of metal, mismatched materials and shaky, old pipes.

But when Wein, a photographer, and Rob Brulinski set up their Wild Horses Studios in the Copy Cat last year, they felt as if the residents didn't know the full story of their living quarters.

"They understand that it's an industrial space, but I'm hesitant to say that they know why this building was built in the first place," Brulinski says.

(Actually, its existence as a commercial and residential building is a complicated story of urban renewal that involves the creation of arts districts, tax breaks and debates about gentrification. The Baltimore City Paper has that history.)

According to Wein, it also seems that residents don't know much about each other, either. "No one really knows how many people are living here at once," he says. The building is divided into sections, with only a few of the rooms occupied at once — and some of the residents, Wein says, are very reclusive.

He can say that there are at least 100 tenants. That's about how many he and Brulinski have photographed for an ongoing portrait project of Copy Cat residents in their quarters. They hope to compile the resulting photos in a book.

"We wanted the subjects to play a role," Wein says. "We wanted them to be themselves, but wanted them to be proud ... in their space."

Though only six months into the project, they say they have received numerous emails from artists who want to move into the Copy Cat — and even former residents who want to tell their stories.

"The art community that is here is amazing," Wein says. And he hopes readers of the eventual book will agree.

To get a better idea of the space, check out this virtual tour produced by Wein and Brulinski.