Makenna Hardy moved to Baltimore in 2010. Her lease on her Hampden home is up December 31st and she has to make a decision: Does she want to stay in Baltimore or does she go explore another city? Over the next six weeks, she will bring you along on her journey as she explores what Baltimore has to offer, before making her final decision.

Photo by Dan Meyers

For the past year or so, I have been trying to plan a date with my mom to visit the AmericanVisionary Art Museum, but our opposing schedules have made this impossible. Since the world is ending on Friday and my mother can’t get down here before then, I decide to go this Tuesday: My last chance before the apocalypse

I have only seen this Museum from a far. The mirrored exterior captures my attention every time I drive past it. I wonder if there are a significant amount of car crashes as a result of people like me. I have heard that the museum is houses the work of self-taught artist so I think my illustration degree means this is not my home. However, I am excited to hang out for a bit.

I break out of my Hampden Bubble and make my way to the museum where Lord Baltimore grants me the gift of parking. The parking machine has a huge appetite for quarters, so I shovel them until his gullet until he tells me he is full. I hope the quarters are being used for a sculpture of some sort, maybe an exhibit about change? How the small change can make beautiful statements, a metaphor for the little people working together to create something bigger and making a ‘change’. Wait, what? Where am I again? Oh right…

Giant Whirligig by Vollis Simpson. Photo by Jack Hoffberger.

I stop fantasizing about quarters and by a gian whirligig and a lovely school bus covered in a mosaic of mirrors. I have never wanted to own a school bus so badly, or at all. After admiring the bus and the sculptures adorning it, I check my teeth in the reflection. I can’t decide if this is a disservice to the artist or simply proof that this is a multifunctional work of art. Regardless, I walk into the building and step onto a large mat of toothbrushes that tell me to smile.

I smile at the friendly cashiers that stamp my hand. I smile down a corridor. I smile at a large ball of bras. This is the first exhibit: my bedroom floor multiplied by a few thousand. I already feel at home. 18,085 bra’s and 18,085 stories to accompany each one.

I learn that the main exhibition is titled “The Art of Storytelling: Lies, Enchantment, Humor & Truth.” My eyes look towards a small blurb on the wall. I read that Earnest Hemingway was challenged to make a story in six words. His story goes as this “for sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” The smile fades from my face.

Bullying Confession: High School by Anonymous. Courtesy of PostSecret.

As I mourn the death of a non-existent infant, I stroll to a section in the exhibit titled ‘Lies, Loshon Hora (devils tounge) & True Confessions of the Bullied Innocent.’ I see an array of  handwritten postcards decorated in different fonts and doodles. I figure the artist must be mimicking PostSecret, a community art project where people mail their secrets in anonymously on handmade postcards. It’s been on the internet for years. Not original.

I swallow my thoughts as soon as I realize this exhibit is actually a part of PostSecret: Bullies and Attackers unite to tell their stories. Reasons they did what they did, what they regret, how bullying affected their lives, why your dog pees when you pet him. (if you want to know you’re going to have to check it out for yourself)

These are real people. Not the fake kind of people. The kind you see in typically see portrayed in art and popular media. Porcelain people accompanied by beautiful scenery, a glimpse at a perfect world you will never know. A world without baby shoes that are never worn.

The secrets are accompanied by a quote from the creator, Frank Warren: “The children most broken by the world become the adults most likely to change it.” As I go onto the next exhibit, I learn people broken by the world are also most likely to create great art.

I wander into a bunch of ten year olds centered around a large screen. I usually run away from packs of small children, but the film is so captivating I stop and attempt to blend.

Road To Krasnik, No. 20 by Esther Krinitz. Image courtesy Art & Remembrance, © 2004 

The film tells of Esther Krinitz’s embroidered tale of her Holocaust survival. Over 20 years of work into 36 beautifully detailed pieces. Storytelling by thread. In doing this she was able to relive the memories and recapture the emotions she felt from a safe place.

The teacher tells the children it’s time to go, but they continue to sit their captivated. I can’t decide if I am happy that they are so interested or upset that they are not listening.

My eyes wonder and I see a quote from Anne Frank “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart” Again, Ann Frank has never met my landlord, but it is refreshing to see that Shambhala is everywhere. In fact, many great works of art are rooted in suffering and the faith that people are decent.

This includes art from illiterate South African women recording their worse day of apartheid through embroidery. I would depict my worse day through boxes of clutter and the stress of being disorganized. They tell stories of young girls being set on fire merely because they were walking with a stranger.

These women are a part of the South African Truth Reconciliation Commission. Despite what they have been through, they believe in responding by kindness and forgiveness instead of ways that perpetuate alienation.

In an effort to procrastinate cleaning the house last night, my roommate and I had a conversation about a similar issue,Instead of isolating the people that are misguided or mentally unstable, why don’t we provide treatment and understanding? Simple? Probably Not.

However, art as a constructive outlet for negativity could be a good starting point.  Maybe Al Capone would have benefited by throwing some paint on a canvas in Jackson Pollock manner. Maybe that is a horrible example. Maybe we will never know.

From “Theaters of the 13th Dimension”  by Mars Tokyo. Image courtesy of the artist.

I also notice that many of these artists have suffered from mental illnesses. They have channeled their unique traits into something beautiful, each telling a story. I am particularly drawn to the story of Judith Ann Scott. Judith was born with down syndrome and lost her hearing due to scarlet fever, but it was unrecognized. She was labeled as severely retarded and was alienated as a result.

Luckily, her twin adopted her as a legal gardian later in life and sent her to a Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland where she discovered her ability to create yarn sculptures with blissful unrestrained creativity. Perhaps this is a better example than Al Capone.

 Fairy Tree House by Debbie and Mike Schramer. Photo by Dan Myers.

So many stories, so little time. I fall in love with dollhouses crafted from moss, wood, dried flowers, and shells. If I were five and a half feet smaller I would live here. I see a chair made out of rulers, a wall of textured polkadots, a guitar made out of matchsticks. A lot of materials that most people would overlook are portrayed here. I vow to never throw anything away. I think the matchstick artist accurately expressed this museum,

“The difference between the AVAM and most other museums is the letter “l” and “d” Most museums are founded on “readity” -housing things you can look up in books and reference in libraries. The AVAM is based on reality-the art made by people out of their real lives, their real dreams and visions”

The AVAM is an extension of what I see everyday and easily accessible to anyone. These artists are not trying to emulate a particular style, just being themselves and telling their stories.

I understand that many of these people are blowing off steam in a creative manner.  Much of the stuff in this museum is not meant to be understood. Just like this randomly placed quote on the walls of the museum and now in my article

“Children and drunks always speak the truth!”

Photo courtesy AVAM

With my time running out, I flee to the gift shop. Two birds, One stone, and I don’t usually have very good aim. I end up finding a Christmas present for an anonymous member of my family that might be reading this a metal cuff made to look like a watch from Haitian oil drums. It helps provide meals to the people of Haiti that make it, so she cannot return it. It doesn’t tell time, but if it did it would tell me I am late.

I realize I am a few minutes past my time limit. The meter yells at me to feed it, but I ignore it’s cries. I must see the egg. I glide past a beautiful garden and there  it is basking in  it’s mirrored mosaic glory. I have no idea what it means, or why I am so compelled to see it, but I see it. There are still other buildings to explore, but I have places to be.

Cosmic Galaxy Egg by Andrew Logan

If the world doesn’t end I will most certainly come back. If it does end, it will be gradual and I will have enough time to crawl over to the other buildings. I hope they will let me in for free. I run back to my car. No ticket! A big shout out to Lord Baltimore. He really wants me to stay.

As I run around Hampden practicing my meditation techniques and trying not to weaze, I run across blue shards of blue colored glass that would make a great sculpture. I am inspired by my visit to the AVAM, but I resist the urge of picking them up because running with glass is never fun. I also see the trash in my yard, I resist the urge to make a huge sculpture of David out of cigarette butts.

I am glad I didn’t fully explore the museum. I am glad I have not fully explored Baltimore.  I am glad there is more hamburger to eat because I have a huge appetite.

That’s the thing about Baltimore, there is always something around the corner. Something, I haven’t done. It would probably be impossible to do everything, but that’s the beauty. On any given night I could probably find five events that I’d like to attend.

And now, for the final decision….