Community Based Project: The Block Beautification Project: One Artist's Work to Help Make West Baltimore Beautiful.

Author:Clemons, Kenneth
Position:Baltimore, Maryland
 
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The Bon Secours Community Works is a nonprofit organization striving to enrich west Baltimore communities through housing, and health and community development initiatives. In 2007, I graduated from a four-week job-readiness program from the Bon Secours Community Works Center. I was the only student to have an interest in art. Until the Bon Secours program, my career interests had veered towards illustration, namely creating comic book characters. However, At Bon Secours, I was introduced to Ashley Milburn, a community artist/activist from East Baltimore, who presented me with the opportunity to make public artwork. Mr. Milburn threw down the gauntlet and challenged me to produce community artwork in 2009. At first, I was reluctant to accept the challenge since I had concerns surrounding the vandalism of public art. Vandalism is a constant problem wherever there are murals or sculpture(s) in public spaces around Baltimore City. Despite these concerns, I chose not to cower away from the challenge, and this would lead me to my work with the Positive Youth Expressions, Inc. Educational Institute (P.Y.E), a local charter school in Baltimore City.

I answered the call to produce my first public artwork after further meetings and discussions with Ashley Milburn. I made three, small scale, chipboard models of human-life figures merged together. These figures reflected famous African American artists. I also created illustrations of various models for future sculptures. There was one model in particular that would define my plywood style of public artwork. I had defined my signature based on the style of African, geometric-style artwork created by Aaron Douglas, an African American painter who was well known during the Harlem Renaissance.

By 2010, my mission was to produce a trio set of six-foot, human-like plywood sculptures to be installed in three different locations within the Bon Secours community, titled Clemons, What I Said. The project was my first public installation as a lead artist. As an assistant artist, I had participated in designing and painting a mural titled Waverly Village, located on the corner on Greenmount Avenue and 33 (rd) Street in Waverly, Maryland. In 2011, the opportunity not only gave me the chance to display my talents as an up-coming artist within the community, it also allowed my artwork to be copyrighted by the United States Copyright Office as of February 2011. I gained another opportunity to create more public artwork with Alternate Roots, a community arts/activism organization based in Atlanta, Georgia. There was a three-day arts festival called Rootsfest for which I produced a sculpture, Clemons, Aqua Swan.

Timothy Bridges, a community organizer from the Bon Secours Community Works, recommended me to be the artist designing and cutting out flowers for the students of Positive Youth Expressions Educational Institute in July 2015. Mr. Bridges was familiar with my public artwork within the Bon Secours community four years earlier. The Bon Secours community hopes to destigmatize West Baltimore and the people who live in the communities after the negative press surrounding the Baltimore riots in April 2015, instigated by the arrest and death of Freddie Gray within police custody. Constant imaging of urban blight is the central theme for West Baltimore, even though there are still good people living within these communities.

Before I started the Block Beautification Project, I saw plenty of blight in a neighborhood that showed signs of neglect and decay. There had been a couple gang-related shootings in the area. Tremendous amounts of trash accumulated in the numerous vacant lots. Rats occupied the trash-ridden alleyways, which had layers of garbage that projected horrible odors. The heavy presence of drug dealers could be felt on every two or three blocks within the neighborhood. A number of houses not only showed signs of decay, but were also most likely condemned. Pitiful sights of crumbling sidewalks were present on most blocks. Not surprisingly, the people living in this neighborhood had sad, depressed faces, as if they suffered from mass low self-esteem.

My work as a community artist with the Bon Scours community and the students from the P.Y.E has led me to investigate this question: "What visible signs of care and liveliness would I see after installing plywood sculptures of flowers, created by the P.Y.E students in that community, and painting images of window panes and doors on plywood?"

Students from the P.Y.E Educational Institute and I are committed to the Block Beautification Project. The project's main objective is the revitalization or beautification of the

Bon Secours community. Even though the project consists of...

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