by Petula Caesar
Located at 2443 North Charles Street in the heart of Baltimore’s bustling 25th Street corridor you can find The Living Well. What is The Living Well? Well, that really depends on who you ask – some would say it’s a gallery space, others would say it’s a fitness studio, others would call it a space for meetings and workshops, and still others would call it an intimate performance space. With its open studio design, mirrored wall, and bright neutral coloring, The Living Well is a blank canvas on which a person can create any type of event or activity from a birthday party or a yoga class to a youth development seminar or a career development workshop. The Living Well also has a high level of dedication to the community, and seeks to offer programming that is thirst-quenching for the mind, body, spirit, and more. Its owner/director Maurissa Stone-Bass is an extremely enthusiastic supporter of diversity, creativity, wellness, and community development through grass-roots efforts, and The Living Well embodies all of these things. While Maurissa has definitely given birth to something that was greatly needed in Baltimore with The Living Well, her path to that birth was quite winding, full of twists, turns, and uncertainty. When first conceptualizing The Living Well, she laughingly admits with her eyes sparkling and her smile wide and engaging, “…in my head, it looked like The Red Maple.” She says, “ I set out to buy a building, and the first building I found in Mt. Clare junction, but the owner wouldn’t allow a site survey…I made some other real estate investments…so I got off the path of creating this for a while.” But her focus, clarity and the universe finally came to be on one accord, and many of the area’s most successful artists, performers, entrepreneurs, creative beings and their supporters are eternally grateful.
Though Maurissa always had an interest in all things creative, artistic and holistic, she took a more traditional path in terms of her career. Armed with her Master’s degree, great intelligence and an even greater desire to be successful, she quickly became a rising star in the corporate workforce. As she explains it, she was “living the life of a single person. I was living downtown, living near the water in Canton. I was very blessed. I had achieved some career success, I had no children, I was travelling and eating, buying shoes…” But in spite of that life found ways to bring her back to her artistic core. As she was “healing from a hurt” and “trying to channel that energy” she became a jewelry maker, and “I did quite well for myself,” she says with pride. “In my first six months of doing jewelry I made Essence Magazine, I made The Washington Post style section…I made belly chains — that was my signature piece. And I was the first person in the area to do loc charms.” Her loc charms made their way to some of the premiere natural hair care shops in New York City, and from there Essence Magazine came calling, asking to feature her hair charms in a major photo shoot. She also became a stylist for people pairing her jewelry with their looks.
As Maurissa continued moving through her life, she found more shifts in her life became necessary. She eventually hit a wall of sorts. As she explains it, “I had done everything…I had travelled…I had bought my retirement home…I had bought my dream car…but I didn’t know who I was and how I was being defined…I was also a child without a mother, and a mother without a child. So I decided to adopt a child. I adopted my daughter when she was five years old. Then, “I remember I was changing over my closet and I had all by boots out…and I looked at the boots and was meditating…and I said there are literally thousands of dollars of boots here. I really haven’t been the best steward of the abundance God has blessed me with.” The end result? “I told my boss I was leaving…I literally quit a job without having a job.”
She took a job at The University of Maryland (where she had worked previously) as Director of Faculty and Staff Training. When former colleagues saw her on campus Maurissa says the response was always, “they hired you in HR?” The University of Maryland wasn’t the best fit for Maurissa after all that had changed in her life. There was a lot of “microaggression – instead of really using my higher order skills, what they did was, every day, they tried to dismantle my inner authority. I had a combative relationship with my employer…stay in your place.” And her efforts to do her job effectively seemed to be undermined at every turn. “I looked at the curriculum, which was mostly for white collar employees when over sixty percent of the workforce was blue collar. “The blue collar workers are underrepresented here,” she said. When she suggested offering basic computer skills, adding that as an institution of higher learning there was an implied commitment to education in general across the board, she found her ideas were not particularly welcomed.
While her 9-5 was becoming increasingly difficult, her purpose in other respects was becoming even more focused. A friend of Maurissa’s was doing yoga classes in a space she called “The Living Well” in a brownstone. “I loved the name ‘The Living Well,” Maurissa says, and when her friend wanted to give up the yoga Maurissa told her, “I am going to buy the name from you,” which she did. The space was very small and didn’t allow much room for growth, but Maurissa found out about a space that was for rent on Charles Street, an old printing company. “I remember thinking this would be a huge undertaking,” she says with a deep sigh. But she already had several people utilizing the space in the brownstone for all kinds of things from drumming classes to childbirth classes, and everyone agreed to come to her new space. So Maurissa liquidated some of her assets, and her dad gave her money. Baltimore City wasn’t particularly good about getting the work required to get permits in place in a timely manner, and leaving work to handle these things soon got problematic, and Maurissa knew her time at University of Maryland was drawing to a close. It was time to finally give birth to The Living Well.
These days Maurissa is Director of The Living Well and an adjunct professor at University of Baltimore. Maurissa describes the space on Charles Street as an “urban oasis”. The space’s tagline is “Live Well, Be More”, which is what Maurissa has always sought to achieve and has sought to help others achieve as well. She has quickly made her business a key part of the community, and the community has welcomed her vision, her mission, business and her energizing presence as well. She is bringing all her experiences to bear on how The Living Well operates, especially when it comes to diversity. Diversity is the lifeblood of The Living Well — while it is often home to parties and similar milestone events, it is just as often utilized as a classroom space or a gallery space. And how does Maurissa feel about where she is on her life’s path? “It doesn’t necessarily look like I thought it would,” she says, her wide and sincere smile in place. “But it feels good, it feels right, so I know it is where I am meant to be.”