“Art is not supposed to change the world, to change practical things, but to change perceptions. Art can change the way we see the world. Art can create an analogy.” - JR, Street Artist
Throughout history, art has helped society to question and think past its norms. Ironically, however, it’s also tends to implicitly categorize its viewers. A teenager in a patched hoodie, for instance, would likely appear, if not feel, out of place at an opera (as memories of personal experience confirm). As much as subculture sometimes hates to admit, this phenomena works in both directions. A woman in Ann Taylor and pearls would likely encounter similarly puzzled reactions in a hip hop show’s crowd or a mosh pit. In both cases, however, the appearance of audience outliars does not actually dictate inability to appreciate the art. It shouldn’t come as a shock that angsty teenagers can find catharsis in Beethoven and Van Gogh; that businessmen can appreciate Biggie Smalls and Banksy.
Our appearences don’t always show our commonalites. Such a message fuels the Baltimore installation for the Inside Out Project, a street art movement that promotes sentiments of unity and togetherness through art.
Inside Out was generated by renowned street artist JR. A winner of the 2011 TED prize, JR’s work has taken root in areas all across the globe and aims to expose often forgotten existences. So, when he called for all camera owners (a pretty inclusive single criterion) to take portraits and post the enlarged versions in public places, the response was massive.
As he said in his TED talk, JR’s vision inspired many to make Inside Out their own. He had participants’ photos enlarged, and when they were returned, they were displayed all across the globe. The array of motivations for participation was as vast as the physical area it spanned—portraits were used to protest a number of injustices like homophobia in Russia and oppression of Native American peoples in North Dakota.
Baltimore’s installation for Inside Out was orchestrated by Public Art Guru Scott Burkholder of the Baltimore Love Project. In March 2011, he saw a live broadcast of JR’s TED Talk in Long Beach, CA, and the idea immediately resonated with him. A fellow Baltimorean present at the live talk also thought Burkholder would be a great fit, and sent an e-mail suggesting he take part. Inspired, Burkholder immediately uploaded his own portrait to the Inside Out Website, and expressed interest in coordinating a group effort to realize JR’s vision in Baltimore.
Over the next several months , Burkholder developed the strategic partnerships that would be necessary to see Inside Out Baltimore come to fruition. A team of local artist was formed with photographers Bonnie Schupp and Kristin Stith and place making expert Deborah Patterson joining Burkholder. Bonnie and Kristin were critical additions to the team as Burkholder shy’s away from the claim of being an artist. Both photographers were natural’s for the installation. Both frequently work in portraitry, have an insatiable love of Baltimore and a have heart for all people. Deborah Patterson of Art Blocks, was imperative in helping to choose the topic of diversity, color and race for the installation in Baltimore. Patterson, who recently received a PNC Transformative Art Project Grant from the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, has a long history of creating public work in Baltimore. She was also responsible for adding the individual swatches of color to each of the 36 portraits now on display.
Working with Harbor East’s H&S Properties, he f found the proper location to place the installation, which had its official premier last Thursday Night.
“Project’s like this are built on relationships,” says Scott, “with Chris Janian of H&S having a keen interest in street art, they were the perfect partner.”
The vision for the Baltimore installation was based on a remarkably simple idea that holds huge symbolic value. To combat segregation, a source of endless local issues, photos were snapped of local residents chosen to reflect the diversity of the area.
Institutionalized segregation often groups the city’s diverse population based on race, ethnicity, social class, financial status and, of course, mere skin color. Instead, Inside Out Baltimore grouped the portraits by the favorite colors of those photographed—a criteria that permits Hispanic people to stand by Caucasians, truck drivers to associate with CEOs, and hooded youth to connect with suit-and-pearls-donning ladies.
The resulting portraits, thirty six in all, are displayed in Harbor East. This strategically chosen location itself speaks to the project’s theme. Street art is thriving in Baltimore, thanks to underground movements and large-scale participation in undertakings like Station North’s Open Walls. The enthusiasm for such projects is awesome, and certainly does promote unity between often segregated social groups, as shown by the Open Walls Finale. Sometimes, however, efforts can exclude the city’s posh areas. Ritzy Harbor East ranks among these, so it’s an unlikely place for wheatpasted portraits. This choice of location makes street art available to an audience outside of its traditional, stereotypical pool, further promoting unity across the lines of societal norms.
Baltimore’s segregation is an obvious and well known issue, but its self-perpetuating nature can allow it lie in the back of one’s consciousness. Even though differing neighborhoods lie right next to each other, their separation is so clearly delineated that one doesn’t always need to acknowledge the rest of the city or the world. The lack of encouragement to venture outside one’s comfort zone can result in apathy toward the injustices outside one’s neighborhood—injustices like the ones protested through Inside Out, which are often themselves the product of segregation. Inside Out Baltimore shows commonalities across city lines, promoting the idea that individuals are more than what policy treats them as being. Maybe once a guy from Bolton Hill and a resident of Smallwood Street notice their shared love of puce and periwinkle, they can begin to find other similarities, begin a dialogue, and rally together for causes they both find important.
The installation is located in the Harbor East neighborhood of downtown Baltimore, on the south side of Fleet St between President and S Exeter. Please see the map below for easy reference: