Transforming a City Neighborhood With Art

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Art blocks

Two and a half years ago, the Mondawmin Neighborhood Association and New Auchentoroly Terrace Community Association, together with a large group of local residents and area youth, gathered to talk about the problematic intersection of Gwynns Falls Parkway and McCullough Street and how they could make it a safe, beautiful and inviting space. Their “big” idea was to create a large sculpture that would slow down traffic and beautify the area, resulting in the fabrication of five life-size elephant sculptures designed and created by local artist, Barbara Thompson.

The sculptures will be installed in Druid Hill Park near the intersection with the official unveiling and celebration on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at 2:30 pm. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Councilman Nick Mosby and other dignitaries will attend as well as community and business leaders, residents, youth, participating artists, and partners. (The actual location is the Liberty Pavilion inside the park at the intersection of McCullough Street and Liberty Heights Avenue.) The project was funded by a 2012 PNC Transformative Art Prize, a program of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, with additional funding through “elephant adoptions” by the Maryland Zoo, Antwerpen Motors, and an anonymous donor.

“It’s taken a bit more time to birth these elephants than we had originally hoped, but given the fact that the gestation period for elephants is two years, we’re right on target!”, said Deborah Patterson, ARTblocks’ founder. “The elephants are amazing, and with the community’s artwork visible for all to see, I know they will be a source of community pride for many years to come.”

Included in the sculpture formation will be two Mama Elephants, measuring 11’ H x 12’ L, and three Baby Elephants, measuring 7’ H x 9’ L. Each is composed of two sides, one side painted by local artists, Barbara Thompson, Alco Marshall, and Adam Stab, and the other composed of recycled materials including bike parts, hubcaps, stop signs, and more. The most important details are handmade mosaic sections created by the community—residents, youth, and Westside Elementary students—in ongoing workshops held by ARTblocks at Rawlings Conservatory. Barbara’s studio, where the elephants were created, is located on Druid Park Drive just outside the park.

The vision for the elephants started as a special project for ARTblocks, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help communities transform their neighborhood spaces through their own original ideas and art making, otherwise known as creative placemaking. The term “placemaking” was conceived in the 1970s by NY’s Project for Public Spaces to describe a philosophy and process for making plazas, squares, public spaces, and streets more vibrant, dynamic and sustainable by involving the local community in the entire process.

In 2011, Deborah Patterson, director of ARTblocks, worked with the President of the Mondawmin Neighborhood Association, Sandra Almond-Cooper, and the President of New Auchentoroly Terrace Community Association, Barbara Anderson-Dandy, to identify a space in their community that needed improvement. They chose the intersection because it was so dangerous and residents could barely cross the street to get to Druid Hill Park, located directly across the street. Funded by a Free Fall Baltimore grant, Ms. Patterson held a creative placemaking workshop with the community–including residents of all ages–that enabled them to identify their goals for the space. Since then, several goals have been completed that include the planting of 1,000 daffodil bulbs in the median and at the entrance to the park as well as the installation of countdown crossing signals and pedestrian crossing signs. Their biggest project is the elephants.

A broad-based community collaboration in every sense, additional partners include P. Flanigan & Sons; National Lumber; Chris Wilson & Barclay Investment Corporation; and carpenter & set designer, Gary Flowers. Rawlings Conservatory, Friends of Druid Hill Park, Councilman Nick Mosby, and Baltimore City’s Recreation and Parks have been instrumental partners throughout the entire process.

ARTblocks has also received a grant from Maryland Art Place to paint elephant tracks in the intersection leading to the elephants to be completed in Summer 2014.

Edited from Press Release

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