Jermaine T. Bell Interviews Nora Howell about the completed Art @ Work Project & Celebration
With photos by Nate Larson, Jermaine T. Bell, and Jubilee Baltimore
Art @ Work, produced by Jubilee Baltimore in conjunction with BOPA, was a celebration for all of the five senses. For it’s final celebration of the collaboration between Baltimore City School students and muralists, they threw a serious party. DJ SOUL was spinning the hits that even your mother could dance to. (Full disclosure, my mother did.)
The shredded barbecue chicken and slaw by the caterer Shorty was perfectly savory and sweet. The skating troop, Its My Skate Night, whirled and cavorted to Top 40 R&B under the tent that provided shade from the summer’s afternoon sun.
Situated on a grassy lot scattered with cerulean park benches and citrus colored umbrellas, Art @ Work was a welcome spectacle to neighbors and passersby. And, if that were not enough, there was an air conditioned trolley to whisk you away on a tour, MC’d by the teenagers who worked closely with professional artists to complete nine murals placed in and around the Upton / Sandtown area.
I talked with Nora Howell, Jubilee’s Program Director to find out just how Art @ Work came to be.
Jermaine T. Bell: What exactly is Art @ Work?
Nora Howell: Art @ Work is a five week youth artist apprenticeship program employing 80 young people who painted seven murals and one mosaic under the leadership of 9 professional artists.
JB: How did BOPA And Baltimore City become involved in the project?
NH: Jubilee Arts originally planned to hire eight youth workers to paint one mural under the leadership of our Americorps resident artists. Following the Uprising, I was sitting in a meeting with Randi Vega from BOPA. She was sharing the concerns shared across the city about providing productive things for young people to do during the summer. I shared with her our plan to paint a mural with youthworkers who would actually be paid to paint. I casually mentioned that maybe in 2016 this program that we could expand to include more youth. Ms. Vega was like, ‘2016 is too far away, we need this now!’
With her vision and willingness to partner with Jubilee Arts we expanded the program from eight youth to 80 in a matter of six weeks. The Youth Works program was always a vital part of the project in providing a wage for the participating youth.
I also participated in a youth artist apprenticeship program when I was in high school in Cincinnati, OH. I designed the Art @ Work program loosely off of my own experiences as a mural apprentice back in the day :).
JB: Why Sandtown? Why now?
NH: Sandtown because that’s Jubilee Arts focal point. Everything we do is about Sandtown and has been since 2008. This project was a true collaboration between city partners, city-wide organizations, the funding community, neighborhood based non-profits, and churches. The Baltimore Uprising is responsible for bringing together these various partners in such a short time period to produce this dynamic and powerful project.
JB: Will Art @ Work be implemented in other parts of the city?
NH: We have talked about expanding the program to include other neighborhoods, we have not however identified who and where that will be as of yet. We are still evaluating the program this past summer and accessing how to improve the structure of the program.
JB: How did you go about selecting the artists?
NH: We were looking for a very specific type of artist–artists that were great painters, produced powerful artwork, had experience making exterior murals, that also had ample experience working with youth, and were of African descent. It was a very specific skill set. The experience of working with young people was key. We searched until we found eight great artists who were willing to take on the challenge with only a three week notice! We were truly grateful to the artists who were available and willing to participate. The high caliber of artist that participated is evident in the murals they produced alongside the youth.
JB: Was there a reason that the artists were all people of color?
NH: It was important to the integrity of the project that all of the lead artists hired reflected the racial make-up of the community. Especially in a time when the neighborhood is so saturated with “outsiders,” primarily white people–conducting interviews, community organizing, “helping,” passing out food etc. etc. etc. It was important that all of the artist be of color to help build relationships and trust with residents who lived near each mural and to ensure that the project and murals produced reflected the values and experiences of the residents of color in Sandtown.
JB: Did you see a change in students’ behavior from the beginning of this project until the end.
NH: Yes, definitely. Quite a few of them did not even know what a mural was on the first day of work and they certainly did not know they would be painting one! There was a significant shift in the group when once everyone started painting. The first two weeks the youth were interviewing residents, coming up designs and putting together a professional design presentation–in some ways it felt a lot like school. But once they started to paint and their task became more tangible, the youth were more invested, focused and motivated. A highlight of the summer was when one said, “I just love going home smelling like paint!” For someone who had never painted outside before, I think that was pretty awesome. They had the opportunity to learn something new to love!
JB: Will this be implemented next summer?
NH: Hopefully! It is our plan to do the program again. We are in the process of evaluating, making suggestions for improvements, and then going back to our funders and planning for 2016. We are optimistic about doing the program in 2016.
JB: What else does Jubilee have lined up for the year?
NH: Jubilee Arts has art, dance and ceramic classes year round for ages six and up. We have everything from line dance, hand dance, ballet to mosaic, painting and sewing classes. We are also expanding our Youth In Business program.
JB: Are there any plans to build more centers like Jubillee throughout West Baltimore?
NH: We currently do not have plans to replicate Jubilee Arts in other neighborhoods, but we are working to expand the effectiveness or our current programs to reach more families and in particular to engage more young people between the ages of 14-17.
Art @ Work 2015 Mural Artist’s and their team names:
Megan Lewis, Corner of Kavanaugh and Monroe 1855 Kavanaugh St.
Team Name: Artletes
Gary Mullens, (back of Penn. North Library) 2410 Pennsylvania Ave.
Team name: B’more Abstract
Mike Thomas, Gilmor Elementary playground,1508 Laurens St.
Team Name: Lillian Jones Mural Squad
Herb Massie, Mosaic Address signs and flower pots 1200 N. Stricker St.
Team Name: Avenue Artists
Ernest Shaw / Stephen Towns, Upton Boxing Center 1901 Pennsylvania Ave.
Team Name: Team Unexpected
Iandry Randriamondroso, William McAbee Pool, 1323 N. Gilmor St.
Team Name: Art Major
Paula Phillips, Bruce Street Park 1707 Lorman St.
Team Name: Baltimore Rising
Amy Sherald, Mount St. Bridge (pictured at top)
Team Name: Mount Street Painters
DJ: DJ SOUL
Skater Group: It’s My Skate Night #imsn
Singer: Q (Quinton Randall)
Dance Troop: Bmore Than Dance
Author Jermaine T. Bell is a Baltimore based designer and writer.
Photo Credits: Nate Larson photos of the painting teams / Jermaine T. Bell photos of the celebration / other photos from the Jubilee Baltimore blog.