The Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance has begun collecting submissions for their new grant: The Rubys. The Rubys was created this year with start-up funding from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation to provide project-based funding for new and established artists in the Baltimore area. Performing, visual, media, and literary artists who are doing work intended to impact their community are encouraged to apply for The Rubys Grant. The program will award up to $10,000 to an artist in each of the four grant categories: Performing Arts, Media Arts, Visual Arts, and Literary Arts.
To be eligible for the grant, an artist must be:
- A resident of Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Harford County, or Howard County at the time of application and when the grant is awarded.
- A U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident.
- At least 21 years old.
- An active practicing artist who has pursued their profession in their chosen discipline for more than three years
Applications are currently being accepted and the application deadline is February 2, 2014. For more information on the application process, to apply, or for further information about the grant please visit here.
You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discover that it happened 100 years ago to Dostoyevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that he is alone. This is why art is important. Art would not be important if life were not important, and life is important.~James Baldwin, Conversations with James Baldwin
I submit that life is justice, and the pursuit thereof. The correlation of life and art can be made in any number of trite, uninspired ways. I imagine that my movement toward my own artistic self was, directly, a byproduct of life–living. I would always find myself experiencing a special sort of alone. Suffering through a oppressively mundane existence; struggling to announce a me that is indeed alive and present. Beyond the platitudes of elders and encouragement of contemporaries there was a void left. The irony seems always to be that one is, too often, unaware of the missing piece.
I’ve only adopted the “artist” moniker to offer society the opportunity to frame what it is that I do to survive. And, I was so inclined only because I read something that I thought only happened to me, and discovered it happened 61 years ago, to someone else.
Where does art and justice intersect? In a full-on, speed limit be damned, unapologetic, unashamedly reckless attempt at experiencing the most rewarding life possible. This approach is predicated on the notion that one’s success, happiness, validation, affirmation and joy are all, at once, utterly dependent on those things being equitably experienced by his/her community. Without regard to religious leanings, certain truths remain:”For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” So what of the fullness of life, if it is experienced in a vacuum?
I am alive. I am living. I am art. I am justice.
Devlon E Waddell
Note: An earlier version of this post appeared at mobtownblues.com in June 2013.
Last June’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by Baltimore Performance Kitchen used a centuries-old story to explore very contemporary social issues. In presenting the Bard’s venerable tale (itself based on an earlier Italian novella) of feuding families and ill-fated lovers, director J. Buck Jabaily’s site-specific play exposed fault lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, and generation relevant to today’s Baltimore. [Full disclosure: I was a member of the cast.]
For the play’s setting, Jabaily chose Area 405, a multi-use arts space on the site of a former brewery and fan factory in Greenmount West, one of the neighborhoods that comprise what is now called the Station North Arts & Entertainment District. The building’s transition, from an anchor of the local industrial economy a century ago, to a cultural venue in what is currently an economically distressed area, allowed Jabaily to allude to the tensions that occasionally spring up between Baltimore’s emerging arts community and longstanding residents of the Station North neighborhoods.
In BPK’s retelling, the Capulets represented Baltimore of 1913: staid, conservative, wealthy, and white. The Montagues, by contrast, reflected contemporary Station North residents: younger, less affluent, less formal, more diverse. These distinctions were manifest in the casting of the titular lovers. Juliet was played by Annie Unger, a blonde, hazel-eyed teen just out of high school, while Romeo was played — as a woman — by Michelle Antoinette “LOVE the Poet” Nelson, an African-American spoken-word artist in her early thirties.
The venue and casting decisions had a profound impact on the interpretation of the play. Without altering Shakespeare’s text (beyond trimming passages for time and changing the gender pronouns that refer to Romeo), Jabaily crafted a production that touched on themes of racism, sexual orientation, gentrification, and cross-generational friction.
For example, the contempt and outrage that Tybalt (Paul Diem) displays toward Romeo took on topical undertones, given the latter’s interracial, intergenerational, same-sex romance with Juliet. Similarly the street brawls that result in the deaths of Tybalt, Mercutio (Aldo Pantoja), and Paris (Richard Goldberg) were sobering echoes of the violence that continues to plague Baltimore. The production even shed new light on the source of the feud between the two families, which is unexplained in Shakespeare’s text. Since the Capulets and the Montagues represent different periods in the city’s history, their conflict can be attributed to an existential clash of epochs and cultures: the struggle between “old” Baltimore and “new” Baltimore to occupy the same place at the same time.
Just as those boundaries of time and space were peeled back in this rendition, the walls between actors and audience were similarly malleable. The play sbegan in an alley, then moved out onto Oliver Street for Mercutio’s ‘Queen Mab’ speech, before finally proceeding into the Area 405 courtyard for the masquerade ball and the ensuing chain of unfortunate events. The chairs were shuffled and reconfigured according to the demands of different scenes. At times, the audience found themselves leaning in to catch the dialogue above the ambient urban noises of train whistles, police helicopters, bass-heavy car stereos, and talkative pedestrians. Jabaily even reserved a handful of roles — Romeo’s ex-girlfriend Rosaline, Lady Montague, and the fateful apothecary — for adventurous audience members who felt inspired to become part of the show.
In keeping with BPK’s ethos of inclusiveness and reducing boundaries among Baltimore artists and audiences, tickets to ‘Romeo and Juliet’ were free. In the weeks leading up to the show’s opening, Jabaily reached out to members of the Greenmount West community and encouraged neighbors to drop in and check out the play. Each performance began with brief presentations by cast members about the history of Station North and the background of the play.
The result was a Romeo and Juliet that was as far removed from the Shakespeare of floppy hats and flowery accents as Station North is from 16th-century Verona. Like Baltimore itself, Jabaily’s production was earthy, unpretentious, and diverse, by turns absurdly funny and shockingly violent.
The closing scene carried a particularly potent lesson for those of us who love this city. Though the lovers’ suicide marks the climax of the piece, the final action in the play is the reconciliation between the Capulets and the Montagues. Through poetry written centuries ago, Shakespeare reminds us that hope awaits us even on the far side of tragedy, and that we can overcome the bitterest of lines that divide us, so long as we are willing to reach across them and clasp each other’s hands.
As an artist or organizer you may be wondering how the changes under the Affordable Care Act will impact you. If so you are in luck! The Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance has collaborated with Healthcare Access Maryland to answer your questions at a free event on October 16th. At the forum representatives from Healthcare Access Maryland will explain what the Maryland Health Connection is, how you can shop, compare rates and coverage options, and enroll in health coverage right for you.
While the event is FREE, you do need to register. Click here to register.
For more information on the forum please contact Melanie Robey at firstname.lastname@example.org
When: October 16th, 2013 @ 6:30PM-8:00PM
Where:Baltimore Theatre Project 45 W. Preston St. Baltimore, MD 21202
Using art to advocate creatively is rich with potential, and riddled with challenges. Not least among these is grappling with what we mean by “art”; regardless of how one may feel about feminism, globalism, or multiculturalism, there is no avoiding these phenomena have contributed to eviscerating shared understandings of art as a concept.
I believe the notion of art is itself a construct; a cultural invention to imply certain shared understandings on value, meaning, and status. Objects of any kind are never inherently art or not, but rather objects are understood to be art because we make decisions to anoint them as such. Art is (indeed) in the eye of the beholder.
For me, a key criterion on whether or not something ought to be thought of as art is its standing as an emblem of cultural or personal identity: if notions, qualities, and/or meanings of identity are embodied or conveyed or elucidated for the attentive observer by an object, that object most likely qualifies as art (at least to my eyes).
I accept that something may be art for me but not for someone else. In this regard, I stand in agreement with Arthur C. Danto, who wrote about art as an object plus a context—the context being to my mind the subjective perspective of a viewer.
Given an “art” world of ambiguity and uncertainty, I believe using art to advocate creatively begins with persuading others that what you put in front of them is not only art, but also art worth paying attention to. My presumption here is art carries an aura of authority and authenticity, so if a targeted audience can be convinced on the art-hood of what they perceive, then one is well on the way to achieving advocacy goals.
I have been involved in numerous art projects intended to challenge predominant (and predominantly negative) stereotypes of one social group or another. In project after project, engaging artists and non-artist community members alike, we sought to build and promote inventories of positive identity image.
These art projects have been nothing less than campaigns to change perceptions, only often with divergent value systems in tension with one another: one privileged a more esoteric and elite attitude toward art (i.e. art is the domain of practiced experts), while the other favors a more democratic, vernacular notion on art and imagery (i.e. art works by the unpracticed ought to be considered on equal footing with that of well-established artists).
The solution these projects sought to strike became not so much “this” or “that” kind of art to emphasize but rather “this” and “that”—project leaders spent time cultivating the involvement of well-established artists and including traditionally art-centric exhibitions and events, and also organizing widespread community participation via art workshops and partnerships with non-art, social-minded organizations.
The range of activities was inevitably rich—but at times divided. That is, from time to time, works by the art folks appealed to the art folks, and works by the community folks appealed to the community folks, with little bridging betwixt the two. In such instances, projects fell short of intended goals because the “art” successfully spoke only to the already converted, perhaps fortifying attitudes but carrying little sway in changing them.
Ironically, this proves true most often not with community-made art, but rather with the art made by so-called professionals—art by highly practiced artists frequently does not appear relevant to non-art-centric audiences. In such instances, there is a gap—and need for translation—between art that subtly expressed meaningful content, and a lay audience ill-equipped to find merit on their own.
Such art’s worth is too often thought to be implicit, leaving the art-centrically inclined feeling little need to put energy into convincing the public that their art matters. The art’s efficacy as an advocacy tool is then limited.
(A similar shortcoming could be said to be true for the efforts around the community-made art: if it fails to speak to the art-centric, whose notions on “quality” often inhibit accepting such work’s “art” status, then it too suffers from diminished efficacy.)
I suspect one’s biases on what art matters always informs assumptions about audience response: if one is convinced of the inherent value of the art one favors, one does not take pains to render that value transparent to others. Put plainly, art neither persuasively explained nor adequately presented leaves it under-appreciated as art among those it could have reached, and therefore less effective as creative advocacy than ought to have been the case.
Advocating creatively sounds good, but to do it well is hard and humbling work, demanding of practitioners a combination of self-confidence and reserve, diffidence and insistence, and attention to what speaks to those around you as well as those you want to reach with your message.