Chances are, if you live in Baltimore, you’ve seen Gaia’s work. That Egyptian headdress on Old York Road? That’s him. The black-and-white bird on North Avenue? Gaia again. That arabber mural? You guessed it.
Baltimore’s a-rabs, who sell fresh fruit and vegetables from brightly painted horse-drawn carts, have long been on the decline — the Arabber Preservation Society was founded nearly 20 years ago. Current APS vice-president and filmmaker M. Holden Warren has devised a plan for their continued survival that utilizes the talents of well-known street artists to turn an a-rab stable into “a stop on the city’s cultural map.“
Writer and UMBC visiting prof Deborah Rudacille looks back at Open Walls Baltimore and the complicated relationship between graffiti and street art.
One fine evening last spring, the street artist Gaia hunched over the handlebars of his bike watching two Ukrainian artists named Alexei and Vladimir spray a Chagall-like image on the side of a Maryland Avenue senior center.
The 23-year-old Maryland Institute College of Art graduate had spent the past five months putting together Open Walls, a month-long street art project. With help from Ben Stone of Station North Arts and Entertainment, he had secured a bit more than $60,000 dollars in grant funding from PNC bank and $20,000 from a $150,000 National Endowment for the Arts neighborhood grant to fund the project. He had arranged for permits, rented lifts and gotten the mayor to appear at the launch party. He was housing a revolving collection of artists in his cluttered loft and spent most days cycling between walls in Station North and Greenmount West, making sure that the artists had enough paint and wheatpaste, that the lifts were working properly and that relations between the artists and residents of the community were amicable. And he had put up the first mural himself, on the high-profile corner of North and Charles.