Temporary “Mural” by Greenpants at the Open Walls Baltimore Opening Reception at Metro Gallery in Station North

Temporary "Mural" by Greenpants at the Open Walls Baltimore Opening Reception at Metro Gallery in Station NorthThe temperatures have dropped again, spring break is over, and most of today was spent being a grading machine after yesterday was a wash–thanks, food poisoning! None of that meant I didn’t get to ride the Surly one last time before heading back to classes. I took her out for an afternoon ride around Waverly, running errands and remembering how important it is to remember gloves, and then out for a second ride, a short one down to Station North for the opening reception of the Open Walls Baltimore (OWB) project’s second year of events. OWB is a giant art project in the Station North neighborhood of Baltimore, which was designated an Arts & Entertainment district in 2002. That designation means tax benefits for redevelopment that targets artists, and tax breaks for artists who choose to live in these districts. The designation encourages new people to move into neighborhoods that are seen to be struggling due to a lack of residents, or, at least, a certain kind of resident. The arts district is great for tons of people–for artists, small business owners, and anyone who wants to see a vibrant creative scene get nourished in their city. And of course it has its problems–housing designated for artists is another kind of segregation, and isn’t that what we don’t want? And there’s the fear of gentrification–who wants to keep renting to non-artists when the real money’s in redeveloping and calling it “artist’s housing”? As the neighborhood becomes a site of value, property taxes also go up, and folks who have owned and lived in the neighborhood for a long time can find themselves priced out of their own homes. Like anything, it’s always more complicated than just saying YAY! ART! Same goes for OWB. It is a wonderful project that brings street artists from all over the world to paint ridiculously wonderful murals on some of our many, many empty walls. Who wouldn’t be excited by that? Well, there’s the part where murals and street art have become the sign of a blighted neighborhood; others argue that the project should employ some of the many Baltimore-based street artists who certainly have their own stories to tell on these walls of ours. Or maybe murals should be designed with community input–we’re the ones who move among them, after all. And then there’s the part where this year’s selection of 14 murals includes only one painted by women. One. In 2014. Wow. Now, it is certainly true that Station North Arts and Entertainment supports many women and trans artists in other ways through funding projects in the city, but OWB is what they’re known for, and that other support doesn’t change the fact that only one mural–and these things are huge and permanent–will be painted by women. The art world has a long history of just this sort of thing–check out these folks for evidence and some good history of this persistent problem. Tonight’s bike ride took me to the artistic intervention by the collective Greenpants. They projected their short video on the wall of the building that held the OWB reception, and it was howlingly good–funny, on point, and drawing attention to a thing we’re not supposed to notice–that yes, it’s all men, again. I watched a few rounds, chatted with the crowd, and then got back on my bike and headed up the hill to home, glad to live in a city that has such art, and such critical artists, and is willing to have these conversations. Now if they could just turn the heat on.

 

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