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.
Last night, I sat in the city council chamber with seven students from Barclay elementary- middle school. We were there to testify to the city council to pass the bottle tax bill that will create a dedicated stream of funding for school construction projects. Over the past four months, the students have been creating drawings and 3D models depicting how they want their school to look. Two students stood before the city council members for the first time and shared their vision for their school. Is this art for social justice?
I say yes.
When I am working with students and parents to articulate their dreams for our city, I am an artist who chooses to use my creative skills to act on pressing issues that affect the quality of life for both my family and all Baltimore families.
Who values this work?
Not the city of Baltimore, because it continues to cut after-school programming, which is the source of most of my part-time salary. Additionally, the Mayor continues to fund new downtown building projects and car races while closing recreation centers and pools where many community arts programs occur.
I believe the artists who are actively involved in community building and social justice work are keeping this city alive. The A + J project is working hard to highlight and facilitate community and artist connections. It is time that corporate leaders, foundations and politicians value the artists who are creating a better Baltimore.