Lit blue and amber to mirror the twilight, a new art installation in East Baltimore aims to make the area safer, more welcoming, and more visually appealing.
Mayor Brandon Scott joined elected officials, community leaders and residents Monday evening to celebrate and dedicate the 16 neon structures lining sidewalks of the Amtrack underpass along Gay Street between Wolfe and Ellsworth streets.
“The folks in this neighborhood have been doing this great work for many years by literally lighting up a way to show the rest of Baltimore how we can make peace in our community,” Scott said at the dedication. “This beautiful installation, like so many others, is a reminder of how powerful and necessary the contributions of our communities are to our city.”
The light installation, dubbed The Beacon, is part of the “Last Mile Park,” a new project transforming the dark, unwelcoming underpasses in the area that cut up communities in East Baltimore into links connecting the neighborhoods through artistic lighting, landscaping and art.
“It is something that all of our residents, even those who live outside of the surrounding neighborhoods, can take pride in, but it is much more than that,” Scott said. “It’s about undoing the history of redlining in this neighborhood. It’s about creating more ties that bind us than things that divide us. Now is the time that we bridge the gap of all our communities.”
The nearly $600,000 project is spearheaded by American Communities Trust, a nonprofit consulting group working with other nonprofits and for-profit organizations to create inclusive economic development ideas for low-income communities.
“This lighting installation is so much more than just lights,” said American Communities Trust CEO China Boak Terrell. “It’s about public safety. It’s about economics, and it’s about fairness.”
Terrell said the lighting project would make the underpasses, which are not otherwise lit, feel safer and inviting for pedestrians.
She envisions a strong public art scene in the area as a major driver for future economic development and consumer spending, bringing wealthier residents south of the Amtrack tracks up to these “north-of-the-tracks neighborhoods” like Oliver, Broadway East and Berea.
Terrell also applauded the project’s dedication to Black- and minority-led artists, designers and construction workers, boasting that at least 65% of all spending on the project went to Black-and minority-owned firms.
The American Communities Trust is also behind the new Baltimore Pump House, a $27 million renovation project of an old municipal pumping station at 801 E. Oliver St. just a block away from the new installation.
The planned redevelopment of the old municipal campus will soon be home to a mixed-use food hall and event space that the group says will bring jobs to the community.
William A. Richards III, 64, grew up behind the old pumping station back when it was still run by the city. Richards recalls when the barns housed city light poles and he would play ball in the empty lot behind the station.
“The block that I grew up on was so unified where it wasn’t nothing but love, respect,” he said. “Back then you knew who your neighbor was. Today’s society is like you don’t even know who you neighbor is.”
Richards pointed to projects like the Pump House and The Beacon light installation as welcomed signs for a revitalization in the neighborhood.
“There wasn’t even an empty house back from the late 60s going into the 70s,” he said. “But it was like a turnaround from the 80s. Things start turning around where more drugs were filtering into the city, and it started where we ended up with vacant houses and those vacant house multiply.”
Richards said he could point to houses in his community that have been vacant for 40 years, but he welcomed some of the recent efforts to raze blocks and make way for new development and new neighbors.
The art installation on Gay Street and others planned bring a bit of “happiness” to Baltimore, he said.
On Monday one of the lights of the installation was dedicated to Pastor Dantwan Broady and the Temple of God Baptist Church.
Each year an individual or organization will be awarded as a beacon of hope and change for serving East Baltimore. The names of awardees will be engraved into the base of the lights.
The Baltimore-based church will take over the stewardship of the Beacon of Hope and Change award in future years, officials said.
“I can promise you that these lights under the bridge are possible because of this congregation believed in them. And so, by the same token, the lights in each one of us is made brighter when someone else believes,” Terrell said.
Beautiful installation! Did an artist design it? Who?
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