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.
Graffiti alley comes at you sort of wonderfully, like a something-around-the-bend actually worth anticipating. You’re walking down Howard toward North Ave, past the parking lots and weirdly high volume of car shops, and then you see her, about 12-feet off the ground. An image of a Muslim woman with a bandolier and a gun is pasted at the alley’s entrance like a sentinel.
On the opposite wall, a little higher up, “NO RULES” is scrawled in chunky beige font. That’s a decent summary of Graffiti alley, the space behind the Load of Fun building on the corner of Howard and West North.