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Baltimore youth help beautify Sandtown through art

Andrea Blackstone | 7/24/2015, 6 a.m.
Locations around Sandtown will be getting a colorful facelift, with the help of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The ...
(top) An illustration of how one completed mural will look in Sandtown-Winchester, after youth help to complete it under the guidance of a master teaching artist. (bottom left) Donta Paul works on a mural in Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. (bottom right) Youth canvassed the community, as a part of the research process to gather mural theme ideas. (Photos: Iandry Randriamandroso)

— Locations around Sandtown will be getting a colorful facelift, with the help of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA), a community-based nonprofit called Jubilee Arts, YouthWorks, master teaching artists, 80 young people and funders. Since June 29, 2015, Baltimore City youth have been participating in a summer employment opportunity to complete a project called Art @ Work: Sandtown, through Baltimore’s YouthWorks initiative. Youth ages 14-21 who mostly reside in Sandtown— the community that experienced civil unrest after Freddie Gray’s death in April— are working with master teaching artists to complete seven highly visible murals, along with customized mosaic address signs and flower pots, for the stoops of the 1200 block of Stricker Street.

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In a press release, Todd Marcus, executive director of Newborn Holistic Ministries, which manages Jubilee Arts, stated that the project will be a meaningful collective response to events of April 27. Art @ Work: Sandtown has introduced youth to career opportunities in the arts, offered gainful employment in a positive learning environment, and provided Sandtown youth with the tools to express themselves through the arts, while helping them to beautify the community.

Nora Howell, program director at Jubilee Arts, explained that eight professional artists in Baltimore were invited to participate in the project to lead eight groups of young people as artist apprentices. Although the murals will help beautify Sandtown, youth were also required to learn and utilize research and public speaking skills during the project. Within the first two weeks of the five-week summer employment program, youth learned to interview community residents to develop mural concepts and ideas. Each apprentice was trained to understand how to approach strangers. They knocked on doors, requesting ideas to learn what Sandtown residents wanted to see represented through art. They reportedly spoke to over a few hundred individuals. On July 10, 2015, teams presented mural ideas and design concepts to community members in a town hall meeting held at the Arch Social Club on Pennsylvania Avenue in west Baltimore.

“All [of] the concepts were generated in collaboration between the youth and [Sandtown] residents. The murals are all about positive things. There was a lot of feedback from residents wanting positive, inspirational imagery,” Howell said. “Even now when I look at the before pictures, even though it’s not finished, it looks so much better to have a fresh coat of paint and for things to not be so dreary.”

Howell added that many Sandtown residents are proud to see young people having an opportunity to work and do something good. Participating in Art @ Work: Sandtown has been a pride building activity for youth and community members.

“It makes me feel good, because I know that I’m fixing the neighborhood up to look beautiful, and let everybody see my artwork and what I can do,” said 15-year-old Mordecai Wells. “They [Sandtown residents] have been congratulating me. They said that in the future I’m going to look back and see the good that I did in the city.”

Herb Massie, director of community engagement for a community arts outreach program called Baltimore Clayworks is a master teaching artist for Art @ Work: Sandtown. Massie is working with a group of youth to create 24 personalized mosaic address signs and flower pots for the 1200 block of Stricker Street. Residents are required to sign a contract granting permission for the items to be installed.

“The biggest logistical problem is trying to catch residents at their homes. We’ve been getting phone calls from different residents,” Massie said, expressing his joy to help uplift the neighborhood where he once grew up. “It’s humbling, and it’s gratifying, and it’s what each person should do, whether they live in the community or outside of the community. It’s about rebuilding lives and creating dialogue and participating in your neighborhood.”

The youth employment program ends July 31, 2015. On August 1, a community celebration marking the completion of the mural projects will be held at Jubilee Arts Center. Tours will be held to allow residents, youth, parents and stakeholders to view each mural in various Sandtown locations.

For more information, visit: www.jubileearts.org or call 410-728-1199.