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Youth mural arts program brightens Baltimore City walls

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Posted at 2:57 PM, Aug 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-08 14:57:13-04

When the dust settled after the Baltimore uprising in 2015, a new crop of mural artists emerged.

That summer, west Baltimore-based arts organization Jubilee Arts launched Art @ Work, a program that hired 80 high school students to create a collection of murals and mosaics throughout Sandtown. Students worked in teams led by eight professional artists.

The initiative struck a chord with residents and business owners in the area, and returned in 2016 to brighten even more walls across the city—this time in the Upton community.

Art @ Work co-producer Nora Howell said that not only does the five-week summer program introduce young people to mural art and design, it also highlights the importance of community building, hard work, team cooperation and entrepreneurship. The young artists sell their handmade flower pots and address signs made from mosaic tiles. They’re each paid a salary though the city’s Youth Works program.

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At summer’s start, each team is tasked with designing a mural, and interacting with community members to weave residents’ feedback into the design. The final works bring new life to bare walls and give students a chance to express their ideas and memorialize their voices on a large scale.

“All of our murals have to do with community hope, pride,” Howell said. “All of them reflect a sense of hope, community power and lots of references to African styles of art. Things around food and culture and community are really important.”

A Cincinnati, Ohio native and sculptor, Howell came to Baltimore to study community arts at MICA, and has worked with Jubilee Arts for nearly three years. Her focus, she said, is to take art outside of the museum, and use it as a tool for social change.

Her vision extends far beyond the vibrant walls. 

“I’d never done a mural before and I’d never taught anyone before. Nora gave me this opportunity,” said Megan Lewis, a Baltimore artist who returned for a second year to lead a youth mural team at Shake & Bake Family Fun Center.

“[Nora] opened a lot of doors for me and I don’t know a lot of people who would do that at all,” Lewis said. “She’s creating a new narrative in the art scene.”

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