This is Ronnie. He became a legend in one night.


Photo by Larry Cohen

I don’t live in Station North. Hell, I don’t even live within the city limits of Baltimore. But both the neighborhood and the city are a part of who I am. I attend and contribute to many events in the area, but the Open Walls Finale in particular was profoundly special. It has provided a source of inspiration from which I will draw over a lifetime.


Photo by Larry Cohen


Photo by Larry Cohen


Photo by Theresa Keil

I first met Ben Stone, Executive Director of the Station North Arts & Entertainment District, for lunch at the neighborhood’s Bohemian Coffee House in late 2011. Among all the plans he talked about, Open Walls seemed most surreal. Gaia, the street-art ninja of Baltimore, would curate a project involving artists from around the globe who would fill massive neighborhood canvases with evocative, socially-inspired murals.

The project has clearly injected life and attention into the community. It has received press internationally and perhaps more importantly, residents from Fed Hill to Reservoir Hill to Cub Hill in the county now know that Station North is bursting with culture.


Photo by Theresa Keil


Photo by Larry Cohen

The event featured performances by Scottie B and Mark Brown, two DJs that embody the spirit and culture of Baltimore. Dancing to Baltimore Club music, barefoot on a grassy patch along Barclay St. had a unique Baltimore charm.  NY body-cast artist John Ahearn also shared his talents with the neighborhood.


Photo by Theresa Keil

John Ahearn is based in New York, but he saw the charm of Charm City and came out to contribute to the event. He paints the plaster casts he creates of real people–often, people who are unfairly marginalized by society and wouldn’t otherwise be considered statue-worthy. Usually, those people are residents of the South Bronx, but on this night, he cast the faces of Kevin Brown and Bill Maughlin, the owners of the Station North Arts Cafe and Gallery on North Charles Street. Their one-of-a-kind experience was showcased for all to see.


Photo by Theresa Keil


Photo Larry Cohen

The crowd got to put a face to many of the Open Walls artists just before the headlining set; Ben Stone recognized Gaia for his contributions. Gaia appeared humble and appreciative. He has set a great precedent as a visionary and public figure for artists interested in including Baltimore in their life’s work. And then, backed by the muscle of two drummers, Dan Deacon took the stage grass.


Photo by Larry Cohen

Dan Deacon must be celebrated, neither for his musical capabilities, nor for his comedic and theatrical accomplishments, but for his ability to connect people.

Everyone that has seen Dan Deacon perform knows that he is a great entertainer. But Dan Deacon is also a brilliant leader. He possesses the gift to lead others on a personal and collective journey, seamlessly blending absurdist generation 00′s nostalgia with social and political consciousness.

I’m excited to see where his path leads with his upcoming record and tour with support from Domino Records. What he offers as a musical artist is the perfect antidote to EDMs “ravestream-dubswag” culture. Dan Deacon could be that Wayne Coyne type savior of the rock and electronic festival circuit (if it’s in his personal interest).


Photo by Theresa Keil

Gaia, Stone, and Deacon may have been the backbone of the event, but Ronnie was the soul. As others in the event’s Facebook page commented: he was “The Genius.” He led the crowd, both on stage and as a centerpiece of the field, as if he were Jay Z performing at Yankee Stadium. He crowd surfed, and many other neighborhood kids soon followed suit. His friends and family members were looking on, probably in a sort of wonderful culture shock, feeling that anything is possible.

This is Baltimore. No rules.

On this night, Ronnie was the metaphorical link, connecting two distinct cultures of people that will begin to move forward as a more unified community.


Photo by Larry Cohen


Photo by Larry Cohen


Photo by Larry Cohen

The creative community of the past decade, anchored by Station North, MICA, the various businesses, and DIY venues, and the artists themselves, have reached a pivotal juncture. I find it fitting that this could be the year that Dan Deacon makes his international mark. His charm, forward-thinking, and weirdness, along with a touch of humility and genuine humanity, represent the qualities that have made Baltimore’s cultural community so endearing.

Years from now when I tell others about this night, I will talk about the feelings of a diverse community searching for identity, the struggle and the hope of a neighborhood, the “anything is possible if we do it ourselves” attitude — all wrapped up in the image of Ronnie.


Photo by Larry Cohen

This, to me, is legendary.


Photo by Larry Cohen


Photo by Larry Cohen

OPEN WALLS on facebook

Photos By Theresa Keil & Larry Cohen