On North Charles St., a studio space is helping aspiring artists and entrepreneurs turn their ideas into actions. By working with community partners and employing alternative economic models, The Living Well is serving as an incubator of dreams, and quietly helping promote the economic and social development of Baltimore City.
The Living Well, situated at the southeast corner of the N. Charles and 25th streets intersection, is owned and operated by Maurissa Stone, a former management consultant specializing in non-profits. Stone runs The Living Well as a for-profit business entity, but one oriented toward community development.
By utilizing alternative economic models like bartering, Stone is able to assist individuals and groups who may not have the financial resources to fund their endeavors to start-up their enterprise.
Stephanie Safiyatou had her first ever art exhibit at The Living Well. A hairdresser for 24 years, a bout with kidney disease cost Safiyatou her home and business about five years ago. While she had managed to overcome her illness and rebuild her business, she was not in a financial position to finance an art exhibit she had conceived and which details the strength, beauty, and struggle of Black women in the Baltimore area. The show, titled 'Baltimore Girls,' was part photographic exhibit and part performance piece. "I put up an indy-go-go to try to raise funds for it and I made like eight percent of my goal, and I was like, 'uh-oh, what's next?'" said Safiyatou.
When Stone heard of Safiyatou's project, Stone encouraged her to use The Living Well to put together her vision. The space would serve for rehearsals and an initial exhibit. In lieu of payment, Safiyatou would use her hairdressing talents, as well as the connections in the world of photography, fashion, and make-up to shoot promotional photos for Stone and The Living Well.
Were it not for the ability to barter in exchange for Living Well's space, Safiyatou's vision would not have materialized. "I wouldn't have been able to do this because having a space is so important," said Safiyatou. "If your overhead is sky high, I'll never be able to create what I need to create."
Any initiative with which The Living Well partners must fall under one of three rubrics: soulful expression, conscious expansion, or optimal wellness. The first, soulful expression, encompasses "Anything that has to do with expression," said Stone, "whether it be photography, art exhibits, dance movement, yoga, drumming, and music, anything that falls under that line of business."
The second rubric, conscious expansion, encompasses anything educative, especially on a topic related to business, personal, or cultural development. The third, optimal wellness, emphasizes any aspect of personal wellness.
By ensuring that any initiatives with whom The Living Well partners falls under one of these rubrics, and through the use of economic alternatives like bartering, Stone is better able to fulfill her vision for The Living Well as an incubator of social and economic development opportunities.
"Because of structural racism," said Stone, "people who look like me don't always have access and opportunity to facilitate their dreams, passions, and goals economically, because they're not a part of the club membership. So when you change the rules you provide people with access and opportunity."