Archive | June 2012

Mapping: A Tool for Participatory Justice

By Nicole King

Neighborhoods of Baltimore

The Baltimore Art + Justice Project is focused on strengthening art and design-based collaborations to improve the lives of city residents. The strength of the project lies in its grounding in place, the city of Baltimore, while also creating a space for connections and community to grow. Arts districts are important social and economic engines for cities; however, for social justice to be truly achieved, the project needs to reach the overlooked areas of the city where art and justice may seem in short supply. The reality is that we simply need new tools and a new vision to better learn to see the connections that arts can provide in urban areas. We need a road map.

The method of the Baltimore Art + Justice Project includes creating such a road map in connection with Animating Democracy’s Mapping Initiative. This project has the potential to make the hidden visible and connect various resources for a more dynamic and lasting impact on Baltimore’s cultural landscape. At the December 2, 2011 Bmore Historic conference at the Maryland Historical Society, I attended a session on Spatial/Digital Humanities where mapping initiatives in the Baltimore region were discussed. One central question of the session was: Why mapping? What is so alluring about this tool at this specific moment?

People love maps. Maps help us navigate our day-to-day lives and enable us to see relationships and patterns. Moving beyond the practical aspects, exploring maps give us a new perspective on seeing place and our connections to it. Maps can be framed as an art form as well as a practical tool. Maps provide a context for understanding places and help to make social and political boundaries as well as geographic ones visible. However, as anyone who has worked with maps (in the form of artifacts, digital representations, or data visualizations) knows, maps only tell part of the story, and sometimes they even lie. Therefore, people (artists, historians, designers, preservationists, archivists, and the general public) need to fill in the blanks and provide the deeper context and connections. To achieve these connections with the Baltimore Art + Justice Project, the aspect of data collection is supplemented by community engagement on the ground. This project provides a tool for envisioning a more connected and just city, but it needs you to engage in dialogue, outreach, discussion, storytelling, and other interactive activities.

Maps are flat until people interact with them. Data is just numbers until connections, patterns, or ideas emerge. There are various mapping projects in urban areas that have directly intervened in the lives and spatial stories of the people and places that make cities work. The City of Memory map designed by City Lore in New York City provides the ability for users to add to the collection of stories. Digital Harlem: Mapping Race and Place in the 1920s allows the past of a specific neighborhood to come alive. Cleveland Historical is a free app that puts history and culture right at your fingertips. Working with the Cleveland Historical format, Baltimore Heritage, the city’s nonprofit historic and architectural preservation organization, recently developed Explore Baltimore Heritage, a website and smartphone application for both iPhone and Android devices featuring a map of historic neighborhoods and buildings from across the city.

My area of expertise is in place-based urban history and culture. However, I see history, culture, art, and community as essential tools for developing better and more just cities.  Often, the places we never really see are the very ones that offer new perspectives on our culture and our shared history. The Baltimore Art + Justice project uses a web-based mapping resource to provide artists, designers, arts organizations, community-based organizations, advocates, and funders a tool for advancing social justice in Baltimore.  All city residents from all walks of life need to make the connections and make this project come alive.

Maps matter when people use them.

Listening to the Universe

By Lea Gilmore

I never planned for it to be this way.  I was a little round black girl from Baltimore who had dreams and hopes that flew way beyond the stars.  For me, that is all they were, dreams and hopes.  As an only child, I spent a lot of time in my bedroom with my records (yes, LPs and 45s!), singing the entire soundtracks to A Chorus Line, Cabaret, The Wiz and Jesus Christ Superstar in my room, never thinking that singing professionally was something I could actually do, because I didn’t see any little round black girls on album covers or on TV.

My mom took me to see “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope” an all-African American musical that starred none other than the amazing Nell Carter.  OH….there I was!  Seeing that show at the Morris A Mechanic Theatre at eight years old changed my life!  I needed to see what I could be.   In my 20s, I performed in 45 musicals and plays, because I had seen what I could be!  In me, I hope other young women saw that they could redefine the boundaries, or at least try like heck to do so.    I was ‘telling him I wasn’t going’ in “Dreamgirls,” I was the voice of the plant, Audrey II, in Little Shop of Horrors (we call it the lesbian version), and in another production of Little Shop of Horrors, I switched it up and I was a member of the Greek chorus (aka ‘The Supremes’), singing about a man eating plant, and on and on.

Today, I have traveled all over the world, singing and lecturing about social justice, peace and nonviolence, but I am still that eight year-old little girl who felt empowered because she saw someone like herself doing what she wanted to do more than anything in the world.  Oh sure, I was a policy analyst, directed a few organizations, talked economics… but I wanted to sing!  I wanted to act!  I wanted to be a damn spectacle sometimes!  And when I didn’t, I felt little pieces of my soul die.  So, since I am kinda fond of my soul, I do what the universe has called me to do.  As should you.

Will you be that person that small child looks at and says, “Yes, I see me!”?

Rini Templeton: A Legacy of Art and Activism

Rini Templeton (1935 – 1986) was a prolific sculptor, graphic artist and activist who dedicated her life to progressive, grassroots struggles in Mexico, Cuba and the US.   She described her graphic work as “xerox art,” meaning anyone could freely photocopy her drawings to put on flyers, pamphlets, banners, picket signs, T-shirts, anything to support freedom and justice.

The web library of Templeton’s art is a 600 image-deep collection of women, workers, protestors, children and celebrations, all still freely available for use toward a just cause.

Our Mayor’s “Tough Choices”

By Whitney Frazier

Some of the best community art after-school programs are no longer eligible for the biggest pot of Baltimore City’s after-school money due to a new grant stipulation: every after-school provider must be connected to a Community Resource School. This new requirement came straight from the top, Madam Mayor Rawlings-Blake.  Her “doomsday” budget continues to cut after-school program funding and other important services for kids.

If after-school providers want to be eligible for this particular grant funding, they must once again adjust their programs to fit the grant. In other words, that cozy little arts center must now be housed in a cramped, decrepit public school building. Many high school kids don’t want to be in school in the first place and now we are hoping they will stick around for  after-school arts programs at their school sites.

The disconnect between good grassroots work and the ideas of the philanthropic community and politicians is one of the issues that the A+J project aims to address by documenting the impact of community artists working in community centers, libraries, churches and stoops.  My hope is hope that the funders and politicians will adjust the grants and budget to correspond with the positive community impact they are seeing.

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